Whether it’s assembly, welding, rigging or painting, shipyard work is comparable to similar processes in other heavy industrial sectors like automotive and aviation. But just like other heavy industries, shipyard workers are exposed to many chemicals and toxic materials that can lead to occupational diseases.
One occupational disease that shipyard workers can contract is lung cancer. With enough chemical exposure, many shipbuilding and maintenance processes can lead to cancerous lung tumors. These tumors can affect breathing and even cause death.
How much of a risk is lung cancer to shipyard workers? And can workers’ compensation help?
Symptoms of lung cancer
A shipyard worker may have lung cancer if they exhibit the following symptoms:
- Chest pains
- Coughing that never goes away
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden weight loss
These symptoms can occur with other illnesses, so workers should see a doctor who can properly diagnose the disease.
Common sources of lung cancer in shipyard work
According to the Lung Cancer Center, the following materials are the biggest causes of lung cancer among shipyard workers. Also listed are the specific shipyard occupations that are often in contact with the carcinogens:
- Asbestos: All shipyard workers
- Heavy metals like lead, chromium and cadmium: General laborers, electroplaters, welders, painters and sheet-metal workers
- Paints: Painters
- Silica/crushed quartz: Sandblasters and any nearby workers
- Welding and flame cutting: Sheet-metal workers and welders
Experts have also warned that shipyard workers can inadvertently bring home some of these carcinogens, exposing their families.
How much does lung cancer cost to treat?
The Lung Cancer Center cited a report which said that the average cost of chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer could range from $1,000 to $12,000, depending on the severity of the tumors. Meanwhile, the average cost of lung cancer surgery treatment was $30,000, and for radiation treatment is $9,000.
Workers also lose much income from contracting lung cancer. According to a 2019 study, cancer patients aged 16 to 84 lost $94 billion in income due to their condition in 2015.
Shipyard workers can file for workers’ compensation to pay for their lung cancer treatment and receive benefits for any lost time for work. However, a claims administrator could deny a worker’s claim if they believe the worker’s cancer resulted from a nonwork-related reason such as smoking cigarettes. A claims administrator might also offer partial benefits to the worker who can’t cover the full cost of treatment. In these cases, workers may want to hire an attorney.
If the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission schedules a hearing over a denied claim, an attorney can represent the worker and help communicate why their claim needs to be approved or fully paid.