Asbestos Risks in Refineries: Protecting Oil Workers

Oil refinery workers face potential asbestos exposure through various avenues due to the historical use of asbestos in machinery, equipment, building materials, and safety gear. Asbestos was prevalent in the insulation of high-temperature equipment, the construction of refineries, and the composition of workers’ protective equipment. Given the highly flammable nature of petroleum, which posed a risk of explosions and fire, asbestos was a favored material for its resistance to heat and chemical corrosion.

Job roles in oil refineries, such as millwrights, welders, pipefitters, boiler makers, foundry workers, electricians, and engineers, were particularly susceptible to occupational asbestos exposure. Tasks performed by oil refinery workers, such as operating refining units, maintaining and repairing equipment, controlling pumping systems, mining, and regulating oil flow, involved equipment that may have contained asbestos parts or insulation. Maintenance or repair work on asbestos materials during these operations led to hazardous exposure.

The primary source of asbestos exposure in oil refineries was asbestos insulation, used on vessels containing highly flammable materials. Asbestos insulation was applied to pipelines, distillation towers, tanks, boilers, ovens, and other various refinery components. Refinery equipment and machinery, including gaskets, sealants, valves, and sheets, commonly incorporate asbestos components. Asbestos was extensively used in protective clothing and safety gear including gloves, aprons, suits, shoe covers, face shields, and masks, to shield workers from heat and fire.

Local refinery job sites that may pose a risk of asbestos exposure include but are not limited to:

  • Detroit Marathon Oil Refinery
  • Trenton Mobil Oil Refinery
  • And others

Products used by refinery workers that may contain asbestos include but are not limited to:

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