During the 1960s to mid 1980s the oil and gas industry offshore and on drilling barges commonly uses asbestos and asbestos-related products in connection with drilling for oil and gas. Many of the workers exposed to these asbestos products did not know at that time that they were endangering their health by following the instructions of their employers. This article discusses the background of asbestos being used on oil rigs, the nature of asbestos itself, the health concerns of asbestos and finally what injured workers can do to protect themselves.
Everyone has heard the term “asbestos” but few people realize that it actually refers to a group of naturally occurring minerals. These minerals have various names and characteristics, but common to all of them is the fact that they can produce very small fibers which can be inhaled into a person’s lungs. These “asbestos” fibers cannot be processed by a person’s body in any way. For this reason, asbestos fibers stay inside a person’s lungs and body permanently.
The oil and gas industry found asbestos products to be very helpful in connection with the drilling mud used offshore and on land rigs. Asbestos is fire retardant meaning that it has fire proof like qualities. Additionally, asbestos is very cohesive and serves as a bonding agent which was helpful when mixed with drilling mud. Offshore workers were required to mix asbestos products as well as even pure asbestos fibers into the drilling mud to give the drilling mud these fire resistant and cohesive benefits.
Individuals who have previously been exposed to asbestos should be aware of the following health problems which could be asbestos related. First, common lung cancer can be asbestos related in that past asbestos exposure significantly increases a person’s likelihood of suffering lung cancer. This is true for smokers who have previously been exposed to asbestos. Even though these individuals may believe their lung cancer is related solely to their past smoking history, in fact asbestos exposure may have played a significant role in contributing to their lung cancer. The asbestos-specific cancer, mesothelioma, can occur in a person’s lungs, heart area, abdomen and testicles. Mesothelioma is only caused by asbestos. Finally, asbestosis is a condition of having actual asbestos fibers within a person’s lungs. This can be diagnosed with X rays and proper medical testing. These fibers can ultimately lead to pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs) as well as mesothelioma.
In regard to offshore oil rig asbestos exposure, injured workers have a claim under the Jones Act and maritime law against their previous employer. Jack-up and semi-submersible drilling rigs as well as drilling barges and other “vessel” type drilling structures fall under the Jones Act and maritime law. These laws allow an asbestos-exposed worker to file a suit directly against his past employer. This can be very beneficial since many manufacturers of asbestos products are now in bankruptcy making it difficult to collect any damages from these manufacturers. A much more successful approach for an asbestos-injured offshore worker may be to file suit directly against his past employer.