Mesothelioma Deaths by Occupation

The data stream on mesothelioma deaths didn't begin in the United States at the federal level until 1999. Since then the government has maintained a record of asbestos-related deaths, but even so the public information on the records from those ten years is scanty. One of the additional sources of information on high-risk professions is the record of lawsuits filed by mesothelioma sufferers against former employers and asbestos product manufacturers. There are hundreds of thousands of mesothelioma lawsuits, which have driven over one hundred companies into bankruptcy. Many patterns of asbestos exposure emerge from those records. In Great Britain the record keeping goes back to 1968, so the data is more reliable although it's important to keep in mind that there are some industries – oil and petrochemicals, for example – with a much larger role historically in the U.S. than in Britain.

Mesothelioma Statistics in the United States

The Centers for Disease Control issued a report in 1999 that provides employment categories for the roughly 2,500 American citizens that died of mesothelioma that year. The data shows some patterns that are to be expected, and one anomaly that may be related to the relatively small size of the data sample and may have something to do with occupations later in life. The listing of high-risk jobs for mesothelioma victims below includes public school workers, where hazardous asbestos exposure would be expected for maintenance staff but not for teachers. It's possible that many of the school teachers who developed mesothelioma cancer were sailors or shipyard workers during World War II, or were employed in another high-risk field during the early adult years.

The most frequently recorded industries of occupation on mesothelioma death certificates in 1999:

  • Construction
  • Self Employed
  • Elementary and Secondary Schools
  • Industrial and Miscellaneous Chemicals
  • General Government Employment
  • Agriculture Production, Crops
  • Unspecified Manufacturing
  • Electric Light and Power
  • Railroads
  • Hospitals

Mesothelioma Statistics in UK

The British government has records on all mesothelioma deaths recorded in that country since 1968. The principal national healthcare agency is Office of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the regulatory and funding agency for national health policy. The records have the most recent occupation of the deceased, which may or may not reflect the career exposure to asbestos. Two categories that are known to be high risk occupations, the shipbuilding industry and railroads, are not heavily represented in the data because those are two industries that lost great numbers of jobs in the second half of the 20th century. But there are clear trends in the records, and there is no corresponding data in the hands of the American federal government, which didn't begin tracking mesothelioma deaths until 1999. The statistics also have limited value as to the occupation of female mesothelioma victims, because the occupation listed was that of the spouse.

For purposes of the study cited, jobs were organized into twenty seven groups of related or closely related occupations that account for 63% of all mesothelioma deaths. Based simply on the raw totals of deaths, the occupations with the highest risk, in order, are as follows:

  • Metal Plate Workers
  • Vehicle Body Builders
  • Plumbers & Gas Fitters
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Upholsterers
  • Construction Workers
  • Boiler Operators
  • Electrical Plant Operators
  • Chemical Engineers
  • Sheet Metal Workers
  • Scaffolders
  • Production Fitters
  • Plasterers
  • Welders

Several of these job titles would be combined in a description of the American workforce; welders, sheet metal workers and metal plate workers all come together as iron workers in the U.S. But the elevated risk in the construction trades is clear. A study conducted ten years later on additional data shows the same patterns, with a continuing rise in the rate of deaths.

Sources:

  1. Work Related Lung Disease Surveillance System, National Institute for Occupational Health & Safety (NIOSH), 1999, http://www2a.cdc.gov/drds/WorldReportData/FigureTableDetails.asp?FigureTableID=896&GroupRefNumber=T07-06
  2. Mesothelioma Mortality in Britain, Epidemiology and Medical Statistics Unit, HSE, 1997, http://annhyg.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/41/inhaled_particles_VIII/129.pdf
  3. Mesothelioma Morality in Britain, HSE, 2006, http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/pdf/mesojune08.pdf

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