01. Asbestos Risk for Metal Workers
How Are Metal Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos was used in metalworking facilities throughout much of the 20th century. The mineral provided an inexpensive and effective heat-resistant barrier and insulator.
As a result, the high-heat environments of metalworking facilities were a common place to find asbestos. This asbestos use may have exposed thousands of metal workers to the dangerous mineral.
Facts About Metal Workers
- 137,700 sheet metal workers in the United States (2019)
- Asbestos Exposure: Previous and ongoing exposure risk
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Moderate to high
- Similar Occupations: Industrial workers, fabricators, smelters
Asbestos was actively used in metalworking facilities until the 1980s. New regulations in the early 1980s led to asbestos use ceasing in many industries, including metalworking. However, there is no comprehensive asbestos ban in the United States. As a result, asbestos may still be present in older facilities.
Metal workers may have been exposed to asbestos in a number of ways. The mineral was used in facility construction, metalworking machinery and protective equipment. Many products in these settings could have led to occupational exposure.
What Asbestos Products Put Metal Workers at Risk?
The metalworking industry relied on asbestos for heat resistance and chemical durability. Due to the high-heat nature of metalworking, asbestos products were used throughout facilities.
Construction products used to build metalworking facilities often contained asbestos. The mineral could be found in wall and ceiling tiles, insulation and cement.
Asbestos was also used to reinforce metalworking and refining equipment. For example, aluminum industry professionals came into contact with asbestos in smelting pots used to refine the ore.
Employees also often wore asbestos-containing protective gear. Due to the nature of their work, employees were subjected to high heat. This required the use of clothing capable of withstanding and resisting extreme temperatures. However, these clothes were often fortified using asbestos fibers.
Metal workers may have been exposed to asbestos from:
- Asbestos blankets
- Asbestos board
- Asbestos cement
- Asbestos cloth
- Asbestos gloves or mitts
- Asbestos insulation
- Asbestos paper
- Building materials
- Fire-resistant materials
- Refractory brick
- Welding rods
As these products were damaged, aged or degraded, they may have released asbestos fibers into the air.
These asbestos products were used in metalworking factories across the U.S. Various product manufacturers supplied the asbestos materials to the metalworking industry.
Manufacturers and Users of Asbestos Products in the Metalworking Industry
Occupational asbestos exposure can lead to dangerous illnesses, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis. Individuals who think they may have been exposed to asbestos on the job should seek attention from a mesothelioma specialist.
Common Places Asbestos Is Found in the Metalworking Industry
Metal workers may have been exposed to asbestos in a number of locations around their work sites. The mineral was used in the metal refining process, construction of facilities and safety garments.
Locations in the workplace that often exposed metal workers include:
- Aluminum plants
- Areas with active metalworking
- Boiler rooms
- Construction sites
- Demolition sites
- Smelting areas
- Steel mills
Contact with asbestos in any of these settings could lead to an asbestos disease. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. However, prolonged exposure in concentrated amounts can pose an increased health risk.
Metal Workers and At-Risk Trades
Many different professionals in the metalworking industry may have been exposed to asbestos. The means of exposure may have varied according to job duties.
Occupational Spotlight: Sheet Metal Workers
Sheet metal workers were often responsible for cutting and bending metals connected to asbestos-containing materials. Performing these tasks may have disturbed asbestos fibers, causing them to be airborne. Many sheet metal workers worked in enclosed areas as well, raising their risk of inhaling asbestos fibers.
Many other metal workers may have come into contact with asbestos. For example:
- Metal lathers could face exposure from sanding and smoothing plaster or asbestos cement.
- Machinists could face exposure from working with asbestos insulation and paper to wrap electrical wires and steam pipes.
- Welders could face exposure from asbestos-containing welding rods used to join metals together
Any person present while asbestos particles were airborne risked exposure. Fibers tended to come loose when employees were grinding, drilling or sanding materials for use.
At-risk trades in the metalworking industry include:
- Assemblers and fabricators
- Industrial workers
- Metal machine workers
- Sheet metal workers
- Shipyard workers
- Tool and die makers
Professionals were not the only ones at risk of asbestos exposure. Family members may also have come into contact with the material. Workers may have accidentally brought home fibers on their clothing and belongings, potentially exposing loved ones to asbestos. This is called secondary asbestos exposure. Just as with direct contact, it can lead to asbestos diseases.
02. Mesothelioma Risk for Metal Workers
Mesothelioma Risk for Metal Workers
Workers exposed to asbestos often have an increased risk for lung diseases, such as mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer. Several studies have connected asbestos exposure in the metalworking industry to asbestos diseases.
For example, a 2017 study of nearly 13,000 welders found elevated risks for:
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Lung cancer
- Mesothelioma cancer
The Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) and the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) also researched metal workers and their mesothelioma risk. In this study, researchers found sheet metal workers are also at high risk of developing mesothelioma and asbestosis. The risk was especially elevated for workers employed before asbestos regulations were enacted.
Several U.S. government agencies enacted legislation in the 1980s to prevent further asbestos exposure. The main governing bodies for asbestos regulations are:
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Despite these asbestos regulations, individuals working with older products or in older buildings may still be at risk of exposure.
03. Compensation for Metal Workers
Compensation for Victims of Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos-exposed individuals may be eligible to gain compensation for their asbestos disease. Asbestos attorneys can help individuals understand their legal options and gather evidence. For instance, one may be able to bring legal action against asbestos companies.
Sheet Worker’s Widow Seeks Compensation
Henry Tragarz was a career sheet metal worker. He developed malignant pleural mesothelioma and died of his disease. His widow, Grace, sought compensation for his asbestos exposure and illness. Henry worked with many asbestos products throughout his career. As a result, his case named numerous asbestos companies as defendants.
The following companies settled with Grace for Henry’s exposure to products, including:
- Babcock & Wilcox
- Combustion Engineering
- Eagle Picher Industries
- Fibreboard Corporation: Pabco pipe covering
- The Flintkote Company: Asbestos floor tile and roofing paper
- Garlock Sealing Technologies
- W.R. Grace & Company: Zonolite asbestos spray
Settlement amounts were not disclosed.
There are also other options for compensation. Besides an out-of-court settlement, cases may also end in a lawsuit verdict. Individuals may also be eligible for an asbestos trust fund claim or workers’ compensation.
Lawyers at an experienced mesothelioma law firm can help individuals decide which option is best for their situation.