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Grinding Machine Operators and Asbestos Exposure

Grinding machine operators are those individuals who are responsible for grinding metal down to a desired shape using machines. In addition, grinding machine operators have been known to rework brakes and other mechanical parts in order to create better fitting parts or to repurpose those that have already been made.

Ultimately, grinding machine operators are responsible for reviewing blueprints for the finished product, selecting the most appropriate machine to get the job done and ensuring that the machine chosen is set up and maintained appropriately to ensure consistency and quality throughout the process. The blueprints to be consulted will contain a variety of information including finished product specifications, dimensions, tolerances, the number of finished products that should be completed and information about which grinding wheel ought to be used in order to best complete the task at hand. Additionally, tooling instruction including grinding speeds and feed rates will be included. All of this data is then used by the grinding machine operator in order to complete the task at hand.

While creating finished products is an important part of a grinding machine operator's responsibility, there are additional responsibilities as well. These additional responsibilities are primarily centered around safety and maintaining the grinding machines. They include, but are not limited to, observing the operation of the machine for visual signs that it is operating properly, using measuring instruments like calipers and gauges to ensure that finished products meet specifications and changing worn grinding wheels when the parts are no longer functioning as well as they should.

Workplace Risks

It is generally known that certain jobs are higher risk than other ones. Still, in modern society, people generally expect that jobsite dangers will be minimized, risks will be clearly communicated, and companies will attempt to create a safe work environment. In terms of exposure to asbestos, however, this was not always the case, and a surprisingly short time ago people were subjected to conditions that had serious, sometimes deadly, consequences.

The Types of Asbestos and How They Affect Health

Asbestos is categorized into two classifications. Chrysotile, or "white" asbestos, is the sole mineral of the serpentine category and was the type most frequently utilized. It is a fairly pliable form that is generally not linked to asbestos cancer or mesothelioma. However, if breathed in, serpentine asbestos may result in abrasions on the interior surfaces of the lungs. Asbestosis may then be the result when abrasions accumulate in the pulmonary system.

The other type is known as amphibole asbestos and is much more deadly. Lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma, a rare and all too often lethal disease affecting the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity), are the most common malignancies to result from coming in contact with amphibole asbestos. Extensive contact with amphibole asbestos is also linked to pericardial or peritoneal mesotheliomas, diseases that affect tissue surrounding the heart and digestive tract, respectively.

The Advantages of Asbestos

Ironically, asbestos was used in constructing homes and in manufacturing numerous products because of its ability to save lives. Serpentine asbestos is one of the most effective insulators known when it comes to flames and high temperature and has been used for the purpose throughout history. The amphiboles also had other characteristics that caused them to be useful in industrial situations. For instance, "brown" asbestos, or amosite, has a high iron content, making it resistant to caustic chemicals. "Blue" asbestos, or crocidolite, is very good at insulating against electric current and was generally used when high voltage was an issue. Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) that could protect people and property against flames, extreme temperatures, electrocution and chemical burns could be made by combining different types of fibers.

Asbestos did not present a health hazard so long as it remained solid. A disadvantage of ACMs, however, is that over time they become friable (i.e., easily reduced to powder by hand pressure alone). Asbestos particles, when they are friable, are readily released in the atmosphere, where they may cause health problems after they are inhaled or ingested. Unfortunately, it wasn't just employees who were at risk; secondary exposure frequently occurred when people brought asbestos dust home on their skin, in their hair or on their clothing.

A Ticking Bomb

One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is that associated diseases can take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop - often long after a worker has left the employer. Given such a long time between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms, a worker may not even connect the current condition with work done decades ago. Especially with mesothelioma, the earlier it is caught, the better the chances of surviving or at the least of improved quality of life. Therefore, it is vital for folks who worked as grinding machine operators, as well as anyone who resided with them, to inform their health care professionals about the chance of asbestos exposure. While mesothelioma survival rate traditionally has been grim, early diagnosis and consistent treatments like mesothelioma radiation can help improve the prognosis for this disease.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari

Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

US Department of Labor - Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders - Metal and Plastic

Webster's Online Dictionary - Centerless Grinding Machine Operator Definitions