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P&H Mining Equipment, Inc.

P&H Mining Equipment Company History

Copper, silver, gold, diamonds – these are just a few of the precious materials mined with excavating and drilling machines made by P&H Mining Equipment Inc. Founded more than 125 years ago, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company offers electric mining shovels, rotary blasthole drills, hydraulic excavators and other machinery vital to today’s mining industry.

P&H Mining Equipment was founded in 1884, when Alonzo Pawling and Henry Harnischfeger started a small machine and pattern shop to make components and assemblies for industrial equipment needed in the Milwaukee area. Their first creation was an overhead traveling bridge crane for use in factories. But the economy slowed and Pawling and Harnischfeger needed other sources of income, so in 1893 they began to design “earth-moving machines.” Pawling became ill and sold his part of the business to Harn­­ischfeger in 1911.

In 1920, the P&H Model 206 – a small power shovel – cemented the company’s place in the construction and mining industries. In the decades that followed, the company moved on to larger and larger machines; what began as a small dipper capable of lifting 500 pounds would eventually become massive power shovels capable of extracting 120 tons of material from the earth.

P&H Mining Equipment Inc. was formerly known as Harnischfeger Corporation; the company changed its name to P&H Mining Equipment Inc. in 2006. With a large number of asbestos-related lawsuits pending against it, Harnischfeger filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2000. Today, P&H Mining Equipment is a subsidiary of Joy Global Inc., a global leader in mining solutions. Its headquarters remain in Milwaukee, with additional offices around the world.

Products Manufactured by P&H Mining Equipment that Contained Asbestos

It may seem strange that inside huge pieces of machinery designed to tear up the earth, the most dangerous part could be found in microscopic particles in its brake linings. But for thousands of workers, that was precisely the case. For years, the brake linings used inside P&H’s machines contained particles of a naturally occurring – and toxic – mineral called asbestos.

Asbestos was known as a “miracle mineral” for much of the 20th century, largely because its fire-retardant properties made it so useful in modern industry and manufacturing. The mineral was added to numerous products to help them withstand high temperatures or to prevent burning. Among these products were brake linings, which were used in cars, trucks, and heavy equipment such as the mining machinery P&H manufactured. When brakes work, the process lets off a great deal of friction and heat; asbestos helped the linings stand up against the high temperatures.

At P&H’s manufacturing plants, brake linings regularly had to be grinded down in order to fit casings on cranes and other machinery. The process released large amounts of asbestos dust into the air, polluting the work environment and putting workers’ health at risk.

Products used in P&H Mining Equipment products that contained asbestos include, but are not limited to:

  • Brake Linings

Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is classified into two types: serpentine asbestos has a layered structure and curly fibers, while amphibole has a long, chain-like structure of fibers that are straight and easy to inhale. This is problematic, because it is when these fibers are inhaled that they become deadly; microscopic pieces of asbestos can easily become embedded in a person’s lung tissue, causing diseases like emphysema, asbestosis or mesothelioma cancer.

Unfortunately, the public was unaware of all this until the 1970s, when the federal government took steps to ban use of asbestos in nearly all applications. By then, untold thousands of workers had been put at risk. At P&H Mining Equipment, those workers most likely to be affected were technicians who installed brakes, as well as mechanics and servicemen, although lawsuits have also been filed by painters and others who did not work directly with asbestos products but were affected just by working in the vicinity.

Recent News

In March 2011, P&H Mining Equipment broke ground on a $10 million project to expand its current Mesa, Arizona facility. The project will double the facility’s size from 40,000 square feet to 80,000.

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