History of the Carpenter Trade
Carpenters are highly skilled craftspeople that perform woodworking activities in a variety of settings. The types of work that a carpenter does can range from making furniture to participating in large scale construction projects. The carpenter trade has been in existence for thousands of years as wood is one of the first natural resources that people used for construction.
Most carpenters perform specialized roles. Carpenters who work on large scale construction that doesn't require artistic detail are called 'rough carpenters'. Finishing carpenters perform the intricate woodworking details and this work is usually performed on a smaller scale such as furniture making, cabinetry, and molding. Shipwrights are carpenters who build ships and other ocean going vessels. Framers are responsible for building the outside frame of a house and individual room partitions while roofers are responsible for completing the roof structure.
Carpenters are Frequently Exposed to Asbestos on the Job
Between 1940 and 1980, asbestos, an inexpensive insulation material with superior heat and fire resistance properties, was commonly used in construction. Wood structure houses that were built or refurbished during that timeframe are most likely to contain some form of asbestos. Asbestos was also used for insulating boilers and generators.
Many of the products that carpenters used at that time also contained asbestos further increasing the risk of exposure. These products included wallboard, gypsum, floor tiles, shingles, paint, paper and cement. Using power tools further exacerbated the exposure risks because using a power saw, for example, to cut wallboard was likely to generate a large amount of dust that contained asbestos particles that could become airborne. Until the mid 1980's when the dangers of asbestos exposure became evident, many carpenters were unaware of the risks and did not take appropriate safety measures. Today, carpenters use masks and respirators to avoid risking exposure to potentially harmful asbestos fibers.
Undertaking any type of remodeling project these days requires an inspection to be performed to see if asbestos exists in the structure. If so, proper asbestos abatement protocol must be followed before work can begin. It is generally advised to call on the services of an asbestos removal specialist if asbestos is suspected to exist.
Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer and Asbestosis are Common Diseases Found in Carpenters
The dangers of asbestos exposure were becoming very obvious by the middle of the 1970's. There were more and more occurrences of workers developing pulmonary disease including lung cancer, asbestosis and the most severe form of asbestos cancer - mesothelioma. This was particularly evident in workers who had extended exposure to asbestos dust and fibers in an occupational setting. We will explore these illnesses in a little more detail:
Mesothelioma is severe form of cancer. The cause of mesothelioma is being exposed to asbestos. It can attack one or more areas but is generally seen in the lungs, the area surrounding the heart or in the abdomen. The organs themselves are not affected; rather it is the lining surrounding them that is attacked. Pleural mesothelioma is most commonly seen and involves the lining inside the lung. Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the stomach lining and pericardial mesothelioma affects the lining around the area of the heart. No type of mesothelioma has a favorable prognosis.
Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer
Unlike mesothelioma cancer, lung cancer can develop from exposure to a variety of substances. However, workers exposed to asbestos that also have a smoking history have a higher risk of developing lung cancer because the exposure can result in cancerous tumors that block the airways.
Asbestosis is a disease also caused exclusively by asbestos exposure where the exposure causes scar tissue to build in the lungs making it difficult for a person to breathe.
It is very common for much time to elapse from the end of asbestos exposure to the onset of an asbestos-related disease. Oftentimes lung cancer will not show up until ten years after a person was exposed to asbestos and it is even long for asbestosis and mesothelioma. In those cases it can be as long as 30 or 40 years! This long mesothelioma latency period means that many carpenters are still at risk today. Symptoms are often dismissed as common ailments in the early stages but can include chest pain, difficulty breathing, and a dry cough that may show blood.