Occupations Exposed to Asbestos
Many industrial workers, mechanics and military veterans were exposed to asbestos while performing their everyday duties on the job.
There is no safe level of exposure when working with asbestos, which is the only known cause of the devastating cancer mesothelioma.
And unfortunately, thousands of workers in a variety of industries have been tragically affected by deadly asbestos-related diseases – sometime even their families through second hand exposure.
If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you may be entitled to compensation from the asbestos companies that put you in harm’s way.
Even if you were exposed to asbestos decades ago and your old employer is out of business, you should still speak with a knowledgeable mesothelioma attorney about filing a claim for compensation.
Workers Who Are Most At-Risk
Asbestos-related diseases are more likely to occur among workers in certain industries, such as the construction and the maritime industries.
Two Boeing 767s crashed in to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, leaving a huge hole in the massive skyscrapers in New York.
First responders arrived to the scene, including fire, police and emergency personnel, totaling 37,000 during and after the attack.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau serves first responders by helping develop emergency communications plans, supplying federal resource information, and enrolling first responder organizations in priority services.
The Twin Towers were built from 1968 to 1972, and asbestos was used in the cement and fireproofing material until 1971. Some of it was later removed in an abatement program, but left some in the building.
Asbestos was reduced to ultra-fine particles, states the Environmental Protection Agency. Emergency personnel were exposed to asbestos when the fibers were disturbed and toxic particles floated into the air.
The inhalation of these fibers can lead to a variety of serious health problems. Asbestos exposure can cause multiple illnesses including mesothelioma and asbestosis.
More than 2,500 9/11 workers have had cancer, according to the New York Post. 9/11 rescue and recovery workers have gotten prostate, multiple myeloma, leukemia, and thyroid cancer at a 20 percent increase in rate compared to the general population, according to the Mount Sinai Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health.
Aircraft mechanics repair and maintain airplanes, helicopters, and other airborne vehicles to keep engines, mechanical systems, hydraulics, and other mechanical systems performing efficiently and safely.
They work in hangers, repair stations, and airfields. Asbestos-containing materials were present in various aircraft components such as brake pads, gaskets, and wiring.
Civilian and military aircraft mechanics who installed, repaired, and maintained aircraft were exposed to asbestos. U.S. Air Force veterans from the 1930s to the 1980s were exposed to asbestos because different components on aircraft and vehicles contained asbestos during that time.
A study done in Naples and Rome shows there is risk for asbestos disease among aircraft maintenance-repair work, according to researchers in the Italian League Against Cancer.
Multiple cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed for aircraft mechanics at the Rome and Naples airports. Aircraft mechanics exposed to asbestos may develop mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.
Symptoms of mesothelioma typically take 15 to 60 years to develop so someone who from the 1950s to the 1980s may only recently have been diagnosed. Symptoms include cold-like symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and wheezing.
Boilermakers work at power plants, on ships and at large industrial sites that have large boilers. Their work includes installing, assembling, repairing, and maintaining boilers as well as other large tanks and vessels.
Plumbers generally work on home and small business boilers, while boilermakers work on large boilers.
Boilers generally come in two categories:
- package boilers, which arrive at a job site as one unit;
- field erected boilers, which are assembled at the job site.
Even package boilers require significant assembly upon arrival at a job site. For most of the 20th century, boilers contained large amounts of asbestos including cement, brick, insulation, gaskets and packing.
Boilers are also associated with other equipment such as pumps, valves, fans, and soot blowers that contain asbestos. Any boilermaker who worked on boilers before 2000 was exposed to asbestos from these products.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists boilermakers as one of the jobs that involves substantial exposure to asbestos.
Many boilermakers remain at-risk of being exposed to asbestos, according to the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers union.
Asbestos remains in many boilers, and associated equipment such as pumps and valves. Many work sites still contain such dangerous mineral in building and industrial materials.
The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers union warns boilermakers who maintain and repair boilers that they can be exposed to asbestos in older parts that get disturbed, broken, or cracked, releasing tiny fibers or dust that can be inhaled or swallowed. This can happen when removing or fixing boilers, valves, pumps or vessels.
A bricklayer lays bricks, pre-cuts stone, concrete blocks, and other types of building blocks in mortar to construct and repair walls, foundations, partitions, arches, boilers, and other structures.
Bricklayers, brick masons and masonry workers were exposed to asbestos from the 1960s to the 1980s. They did not wear protective gear such as respirators or use wet saws to reduce dust.
Asbestos exposure is an occupational hazard for bricklayers and masons. By working with materials like fire cements or being present while others were working with asbestos, bricklayers may have been exposed to asbestos near:
- Construction sites
- Brick kilns
- Furnaces and boilers
- Power plants
- Steel mills
- Firebrick or fire cement
- Spray-on insulation
Bricklayers may be involved in remodeling older buildings. Many older buildings still contain asbestos materials because it was commonly used in construction in the U.S. until the late 1970s.
Power saws are used to cut bricks and stone, which may generate large amounts of dust. During remodeling, repairs, and maintenance, bricklayers can still be exposed to asbestos used in different products.
Carpenters build homes, install walls, and repair fixtures and structures such as stairways, door frames, and partitions made from wood and a variety of other materials.
They work with instructions or blueprints and create the layout of the projects. They measure, mark, and organize materials according to the required codes for building. They also cut and shape materials using a variety of different tools.
Many structures were built with products containing asbestos until the 1980s, including:
- Cement wallboard
- Asphalt floor tile
- Vinyl floor tile and sheet flooring
- Flooring backing
- Vinyl wall coverings
While carpenters may have used asbestos-containing products, they may have also been exposed to asbestos due to their proximity of other tradesmen who worked with these products on a job site.
Most carpenters were not given face masks or respiratory devices to stop them from inhaling asbestos fibers and dust. They were not warned of the dangers of asbestos. Because many older buildings with asbestos-containing products still stand, carpenters face risks of exposure when renovating and maintaining.
The government now mandates training for proper removal, respiratory protection, and use respirators when dismantling or removing asbestos-containing products.
Cement finishers, or masons, work with cement on construction sites. They build structures to hold concrete, pour in freshly mixed cement, and spread, level, and smooth it out.
They monitor the concrete as it hardens to make sure the finished product is smooth, and add sealant to waterproof it after drying.
Cement finishers may have been exposed to asbestos daily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists construction sites, where cement-finishers work, as a high-risk work environment for coming into contact with asbestos.
Older buildings still contain asbestos, and if a cement finisher is on-site during remodeling or maintenance, they may be exposed to asbestos. An earlier AJIM study of unionized U.S. cement masons found they had high rates of cancer deaths, possibly due to sandblasting and other finishing techniques that send dust into the air.
Crane operators control cable and tower equipment and mechanical booms to move and lift materials and products. They are employed in:
- Commercial construction and demolition
- Iron and steel mills
- Power generation
- Highway and bridge construction
- Industrial shipyards
- Railroad transportation
- Maritime transportation
Crane operators may operate an overhead crane with a hook and line mechanism attached to a boom or mobile cranes mounted on trucks or railcars.
Crane operators often worked at larger construction sites removing construction debris and building materials that may have contained asbestos. Crane operators may also have moved equipment like turbines and pumps insulated with asbestos.
Cranes also have brakes that contained asbestos, which may expose crane operators and machinists to asbestos. Asbestos was widely used in building materials from the 1940s through the 1970s.
Crane operators moved or worked with construction debris and materials. They were exposed to asbestos fibers that became airborne. Crane operators were employed in shipyards where exposure to asbestos was prevalent.
Starting during World War II, asbestos was used extensively in the construction of ships that put crane operators at risk. They remain at risk of exposure to asbestos because many older buildings built before 1980 still have asbestos materials.
If all asbestos isn’t professionally and carefully removed before demolition, it may release asbestos fibers into the air. Cranes are a familiar sign of construction activity on the skylines of New York and other cities.
Many crane operators at Ground Zero among demolition crews after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They may have been exposed to asbestos dust during the Ground Zero cleanup activities.
Electricians work on electrical equipment — boxes, panels, wires, motors, and generators — in homes, commercial businesses, factories and power plants. They also work on ships and railroads to maintain the electrical services.
Electricians maintain power lines and the infrastructure that brings electricity to our homes and businesses. Electricians were exposed to asbestos from working directly with asbestos-containing products and also being in the vicinity to work done by other trades.
Many electrical products such as wires, motor controllers, electrical panel and boxes contained asbestos insulating materials. Some of this material was used to insulate these products and other material was used to prevent electrical shorts and fires.
For example, arc chutes were common in electrical products to prevent electrical arcs. Asbestos board was often used to line the inside of electrical products. Electrical products also contained gaskets as a sealing material.
Electricians also worked in the vicinity of other trades including workers applying asbestos-containing joint compound, asbestos fireproofing and building materials such as floor tiles. On many jobs, electricians were working on motors that were connected to asbestos-containing equipment such as boilers, turbines, and pumps.
Electricians would be exposed while assisting other workers in maintaining this equipment. Electricians who work on renovation projects and demolition work are at increased risk for exposure to asbestos, according to a 2014 article in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.
Electricians are still being exposed at construction sites and homes, in buildings and factories, and while repairing equipment. If an electrician is on a job site where they suspect asbestos is present, they should stop work until appropriate steps are taken to secure the area or appropriate protection is provided.
Firefighters respond to fire and other emergencies. Most firefighters work for federal, state, and local governments, but the National Fire Protection Association says almost 70 percent are volunteers.
Firefighters also work for airports and at industrial sites. Firefighters may be exposed to asbestos from building materials during a fire such as ceiling tiles and sheet metal compounds.
Firefighters and other first responders may come in contact with asbestos dust even when they are not at the scene of a rescue effort.
Firefighters can be exposed to asbestos materials from:
- Fire engines
- Fire pumps
- Fire uniforms
- Fire equipment
Firefighters also conduct preventative inspections of buildings and boiler rooms to make sure there are no dangerous conditions present.
These inspections can cause firefighters to be exposed to:
- Other equipment
- Building materials
In addition, events like 9/11 showed how asbestos can spread rapidly throughout a fire or emergency site, endangering all first responders.
In 2013, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health released a study of 30,000 firefighters employed in three large cities—Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco—since 1950.
Their mesothelioma rates were found to be two to three times greater than in the overall U.S. population.
A foundry worker works at factories that make metal such as steel, iron, bronze, brass, and aluminum. This process is also known as casting. Each metal and alloy cast has its own characteristics which affect molding techniques.
Foundry workers work with molten metal, powerful machinery, and heavy molds and cores. Foundry workers may have been exposed to asbestos in several ways.
Asbestos was commonly incorporated into many pieces of equipment including:
Many of these pieces of equipment were insulated with asbestos, had hot tops made with asbestos to cover the tanks, and some workers wore asbestos gloves.
Foundry workers may have been exposed to airborne asbestos particles when asbestos-containing products and machinery was installed, repaired, or replaced. Older equipment still contains asbestos-containing materials.
Foundry workers who continue to work with asbestos-containing machinery or materials are still at risk for asbestos exposure — especially when not wearing face masks or using respiratory devices while working.
Even if safety procedures are followed, it is very likely that asbestos particles remain in the air and settle on clothing — leaving foundry workers and their families at greater risk.
Laborers working on construction sites clean the site, remove debris and load and unload materials.
Construction laborers were exposed to asbestos from loading, unloading, and cleaning up after asbestos-containing materials at construction sites, including floor tiles, boilers, joint compound, ceiling tiles, caulk, cements, and other asbestos materials.
Construction site workers have high rates of respiratory diseases including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and pneumoconiosis.
A 2000 article in the journal Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene reported on a mortality study of North Carolina construction workers from 1988 to 1994. This group had an overall high mortality rate, with laborers showing elevated risks for mesothelioma.
The data were considered consistent with other studies of construction workers that measured asbestos-related diseases including mesothelioma.
Symptoms of mesothelioma can include loss of appetite, chest pain, and pleural effusion. If you have experienced any of these symptoms, consult your doctor and tell him of your asbestos exposure.
Lathers are construction and carpentry specialists who create frameworks for walls, ceilings, arches, and cornices.
They create supportive structures called laths with wire, gypsum, and metal mesh and fasten them in place with nails, studs, clips, and staples. Once a lath is secured, it is covered with plaster, wallboard, or acoustic material.
Lathers who worked on construction sites before the 1990s were likely exposed to asbestos. Asbestos was commonly used in construction materials, including plaster. Asbestos still exists in older buildings. Anyone working on a restoration project should presume asbestos is present.
Lathers may be assigned to restoration or preservation projects where they come in contact with asbestos-containing plaster.
Machinists fabricate metal parts and equipment including industrial valves, pumps, piping systems, parts for ships and railroad and various types of machines to exacting specifications.
Machinists use power tools such as lathes, drill presses, milling machines and grinders to produce metal parts to precise specifications. The job involves cutting metal, steel, titanium, plastic, silicon and other materials that need to be shaped.
Production machinists may produce large quantities of a specific precision part. Maintenance machinists make repairs and fabricate replacement parts for existing machines. Many manufacturers and industries have in-house machine shops and employ machinists.
Machinists fabricated equipment to be installed above and below deck in ships and factories. The duties of a machinist could include using:
- Portable grinders
- Overhauling equipment
- Making metal parts
Grinding wheels often contained asbestos that could become airborne while being used to grind metal. Grinding the asbestos material exposed the machinist to breathing asbestos dust, a cause of mesothelioma and lung cancer.
In some instances, machinists wore asbestos-insulated aprons or gloves to shield themselves when handling hot materials. As they wore out, asbestos aprons and gloves were a source of friable asbestos dust.
If machinists had to work on parts of pumps or valves, they might be grinding off asbestos gaskets and packing.
Mechanics work on cars, trucks, and SUVs. They maintain, inspect, and make repairs to these vehicles according to manufacturers’ recommendations.
Most mechanics perform routine maintenance like changing engine oil, inspecting and changing belts, air conditioning maintenance, and rotating and balancing tires. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says more than 60 percent of auto mechanics work in repair shops or in car dealerships.
Asbestos is still used on brake linings and clutches in some vehicles. Most American car companies no longer do this, but according to the March 2014 Best Practices by the Environmental Protection Agency, the practice still exists. The average age for Americans cars jumped to an all-time high of 11.4 years in 2013 according to Edmunds.com.
Given the number of old vehicles out there, the EPA recommends mechanics follow guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and assume all brakes have asbestos-type shoes.
Brake technicians who work on replacing brake shoes can be exposed to dust generated by worn-out pads. Mechanics should never blow on brake dust. The EPA warns brake and clutch mechanics that asbestos dust can cling to clothing and advises mechanics to avoid taking work clothing into their homes.
Clothing and car parts with dust suspected or known to contain asbestos must be disposed. Brake workers that work on older equipment may still be at risk of asbestos exposure. By repairing and maintaining brakes, brake workers can release asbestos fibers into the air, exposing themselves and others in the area.
Merchant Marine Seamen
Merchant marine seamen have played a vital role in naval operations for decades, providing supplies and support during wartime. While they are considered civilians during times of peace, they are active military personnel in times of war.
In World War II alone, one merchant seaman died for every 24 who served. Approximately 200 billion pounds of merchant cargo, material, and ships were also lost.
The Merchant Marine provided critical support during the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars. Just as there are several different roles that merchant marine seamen serve, there are several different ways they suffered exposure to asbestos.
Whether serving as captains, masters, department heads, cooks, pilots, engineers, or others, seamen were exposed to this deadly material. Asbestos was widely used on not only the construction of ships but in many of the different components used in a wide variety of vessels.
Tankers, freighters, and cargo ships were just some of the kinds of ships with components that contained asbestos, including:
- Packing materials used in pipes, machinery, valves, and more
- Insulation on boilers
- Insulation used to steam pipes
When wrapping material aged, it became brittle and allowed asbestos fibers to be released into the air. These microscopic fibers can remain airborne for days and be easily inhaled by an unknowing merchant marine seaman.
According to a study in the Journal of Industrial Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers performed an analysis of chest x-rays of approximately 3,300 merchant marine seamen.
More than 1,000 of those x-rays showed abnormalities in the lining of the lungs — the area where mesothelioma develops. At particular risk are merchant marine seamen who worked in engine rooms.
However, all merchant marine seamen were at risk of asbestos exposure. There were several other seamen who were exposed while helping to build or retrofit vessels.
Whether you helped install, repair or operate engines, pipes, pumps, boilers, generators or boilers, there is a very good chance you suffered asbestos exposure during your service.
Millwrights are skilled construction mechanics who install, repair, dismantle and move large industrial machinery and equipment at factories, power plants and construction sites.
Their name derives from the days before modern metal machinery, a time when millwrights were master craftsmen who designed and constructed watermills and windmills. Modern millwrights have wide-ranging knowledge of many different types of equipment, from conveyor and hydraulic systems to wind turbines and generators.
They use their understanding of mechanical systems and schematics in combination with hand tools and measuring tools to keep the machines of industry in precise working order. The hands-on work performed by millwrights in construction and industrial settings may have exposed them to asbestos, a mineral fiber that causes cancer and chronic disease.
Research has, in fact, shown that millwrights are some of the highest at-risk workers for asbestos exposure. The tendency of millwrights’ to work on heat-generating industrial equipment explains why they regularly came into contact with asbestos fibers through the 1970s.
Prior to 1980, asbestos-containing insulation materials were widely used on equipment such as boilers, generators, turbines, pipes, gaskets and valve packing.
Using metal grinders, saws and drills on asbestos-coated equipment and its components would have released microscopic asbestos fibers into the air that were breathed in by millwrights.
The disturbance of asbestos materials also would have occurred during maintenance and disassembly activities.
Not only were millwrights exposed at work, their spouses and children suffered secondhand exposure at home because fibers can be carried home on a worker’s body and clothing.
In addition, millwrights who work in older buildings with pre-1970s machines, equipment and building materials remain at risk of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos exposure is associated with a number of diseases. The most serious are mesothelioma, lung cancer, and the chronic lung disease asbestosis. According to a study conducted by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine at City University of New York, nearly half of the 110 millwrights and machinery erectors analyzed showed chest abnormalities consistent with exposure to asbestos, including thickening of the lung lining (or pleura) and lung disease.
In a different study of asbestos related malignancies among construction and trade workers at Department of Energy nuclear sites, nearly 33% of millwrights had chest x-ray abnormalities and 47% had pulmonary function test result abnormalities.
If you ever worked as a millwright and have been displaying signs of mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. And if you’re already been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may wish to consult with a specialist in your area.
Navy Yard Workers
Naval yard workers are at risk of developing certain kinds of respiratory-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis or long cancer from exposure to asbestos, commonly used inside U.S. Navy ships.
Civilian shipyard workers, known as yardbirds, were also exposed to large doses of asbestos when building Navy ships and when repairing Navy ships.
Because asbestos-related diseases are slow to strike, many Navy yard workers and yardbirds may only recently have been diagnosed with mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos decades ago.
Painters not only apply finish coats of paint to surfaces, they also perform extensive prep work on surfaces to be painted. Cleaning, scraping, sanding and applying caulk, spackling, joint compound and primer are all in a day’s work for painters.
Unfortunately for some painters, this work may expose them to asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral fiber used in a wide variety of building construction materials through the 1970s. In the past asbestos was used as a paint thickener, filler and fire retardant.
It was also added to the following materials used and handled by painters prior to the 1980s:
- Joint compounds
- Decorative plaster
- Textured paints and coatings
- Caulking, putty and spackling
Painters who worked directly with such materials in years past aren’t the only ones at risk of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos still exists in older buildings, and work in buildings undergoing construction and renovations can exposure painters to this day. They may also encounter asbestos while painting steam lines, boilers, and other equipment.
Painters, furthermore, can bring home fibers on clothing, hair or shoes, exposing family members to asbestos and placing them at risk of asbestos-related disease.
Paper Mill Workers
Paper mill workers operate all aspects of a paper mill, including paper machines, pumps, valves, digesters, evaporators, and boilers.
Many factories used paper mill equipment to make other products like tiles and boards. Paper mills are dusty, noisy places. Pulp and paper workers operate machinery that converts wood chips and plant fibers into paper and other products, including:
- Fiber board
- Paper board
- Ceiling tile
All of these processes are very hot. Asbestos was widely used in boilers, pumps, valves, and processing equipment.
Paper workers also may have been exposed to asbestos if the manufacturing plant used asbestos in the production of products. Many paper mills used asbestos as an ingredient in their products.
For example, a health screening of former workers at the Conwed plant in Cloquet, Minnesota, conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health showed that 27 percent of the paper workers and their spouses had health abnormalities consistent with asbestos exposure.
The plant used asbestos as a raw material in production of ceiling tiles and fiber board from 1958 to the 1970s. Asbestos was used in building materials and paper mill machinery in mills built from the 1930s to 1980s.
When these machines need to be repaired or maintained, asbestos fibers can be released into the air, endangering those in and around the plant.
Pipe coverers—also referred to as mechanical insulators, insulation mechanics, or simply as insulators—apply, replace and remove insulation materials used on piping, equipment and mechanical systems.
This group of tradespeople works in residential, industrial and military settings. In the past, the work performed by pipe coverers exposed them to asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral fiber that causes several diseases, including the incurable cancer mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
The development of asbestos-related diseases among insulation workers is well-documented in scientific literature. While modern insulation is made from materials that include cellulose, plastic, fiberglass and foam board, asbestos insulation was common prior to the mid-1970s, when its use was first regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Asbestos was so common as an insulating material through much of the 1900s, in fact, that insulators from this period were known as “asbestos workers”. In addition to applying asbestos insulation to pipes, pipe coverers also insulate other mechanical systems and system components such as ductwork, boilers, furnaces, evaporators, turbines, tanks, refrigeration units, pumps, and valves and other fittings.
The handling of asbestos-containing materials during installation was certainly a source of asbestos exposure, especially when insulation had to be cut to size—an action that would have released asbestos fibers into the air. But perhaps the greatest risk of exposure came during the removal, repair or replacement of asbestos insulation, jobs that necessarily entailed disturbing the asbestos and/or dealing with asbestos in a friable state.
Many pipe coverers served in the U.S. Navy and worked in shipyards, where they encountered asbestos on a daily basis. A 1971 study of 101 pipe coverers employed in a New England shipyard found that 63 percent had asbestosis, including 13 percent who had advanced cases.
Other studies demonstrate the prevalence of asbestos exposure among pipefitters in non-military settings.
One of the most famous exposure studies followed 17,800 members of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers (U.S. and Canada) over a ten year period, from 1967-1976.
During that time, 2,221 workers died. The cause of 175 of those deaths was mesothelioma. By 1984, 356 workers had died of mesothelioma.
Pipefitters and Plumbers
The design, installation, maintenance and repair of pipe systems used to convey materials such as steam, air, water, chemicals, gas and sewage is performed by skilled tradespeople known as pipefitters.
Pipefitters work in a variety of commercial settings, from businesses and factories to power plants and chemical treatment facilities, as well as for the military. In residential settings, pipefitters are more commonly called plumbers.
Prior to the 1970s, asbestos was used for insulating pipes, in particular high-temperature pipes such as hot water and steam pipes. Some piping was actually made of asbestos. Asbestos pipes were also common in shipbuilding.
In addition to the pipes themselves, the pumps and valves in piping systems commonly utilized asbestos gaskets and rope packing, as did the turbines, tanks and other equipment that tied in with piping systems. The flanges where pipes were connected used asbestos gaskets.
Pipefitters and plumbers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. Exposure to asbestos is one concern.
Plasterers finish the interior surfaces of homes and buildings with coats of plaster in order to strengthen, soundproof, insulate, fireproof and decorate them.
They also apply cement plasters, stucco and other coatings to building exteriors.
Other job duties include mixing the plastering compound, cleaning and prepping surfaces in advance of finishing coats, erecting scaffolding, installing guidewires, molding and installing ornamental plaster, spraying-on fireproofing and acoustical materials, applying joint compound and repairing damaged surfaces.
The work done by plasterers may have exposed them to asbestos, a cancerous mineral fiber commonly used in building materials from the 1940s through the 1980s.
Asbestos was once a common ingredient not only in plaster and decorative plaster (such as Artex and “popcorn” ceiling texture), but also in other building materials that plasterers would have come in contact with, including walls and wall treatments, patching and joint compounds, adhesives, textured paints, insulation and sealants.
Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) are still present in some homes and buildings constructed prior to the 1980s, creating an ongoing exposure risk. According to a 2001 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, plasterers have elevated risk for lung diseases that include cancer and asbestosis.
The greatest risk of asbestos exposure occurs when the fibers become airborne. This would have occurred when plasters added water to dry mix plasters and joint compounds prior to application.
The sanding of asbestos-containing plaster and joint compound (three coats of each is the industry standard) would also have released asbestos dust and fibers into the air. Plasterers who applied asbestos-containing spray-on fireproof coatings to buildings were similarly subject to asbestos exposure.
Fireproof insulation, when sprayed, created dust and fiber clouds that would have been breathed in by not just plasterers, but by all nearby workers. Wallboard (plasterboard and drywall) was itself made with asbestos through the 1970s, and when cut, sanded or otherwise disturbed by plasterers, it created airborne asbestos fibers.
The disturbance of other asbestos-containing building materials—such as flooring tile, ceiling tile and insulation—was yet another source of possible asbestos exposure. The former widespread use of asbestos in construction materials—along with the fact that various tradespeople worked alongside each other with these materials on busy construction sites—means that workers routinely faced asbestos exposure from their own work and work materials as well as from the work and work materials of others.
The risk of exposure even extended to workers’ families, who may have breathed or ingested asbestos fibers brought home on hair or clothing. And unfortunately, asbestos exposure remains a risk for any plasterer or other workers in pre-1980s buildings or residences where ACMs were used.
As revealed by a study of asbestos-containing plasters at Yale University, routine maintenance activities such as setting screws and drilling holes in the plaster liberated fibers that could then be breathed in.
Removing popcorn ceilings and other outdated decorative plasters, as well as disturbing any other ACM, is also potentially dangerous.
Sheet Metal Workers
Sheet metal processing dates back to the 1500s, but the profession was not firmly established until 1887, when the Sheet Metal Workers International Association was formed.
Modern professionals work on several different types of metals in a variety of ways, including stretching, flanging, shearing, punching, pressing, spinning, and many more.
Sheet metal workers primarily install, assemble, maintain, and repair HVAC systems, plumbing systems, precision industrial equipment, roofing, gutters, and siding. They are called upon to use a variety of skills and must typically undergo as many as 5 years of extensive vocational or on-the-job training.
Many of the structures that used sheet metal contained asbestos, as did much of the equipment workers used to perform their jobs. The very nature of this type of work resulted in asbestos particles becoming airborne and inhaled.
Sheet metal workers were typically in cramped, closed quarters with very little ventilation.
Some of the products containing asbestos that sheet metal workers typically encountered on a regular basis include:
- Roofing materials
- Boiler coverings
Many of these workers remain at-risk due to renovations of old buildings. When asbestos fibers are disturbed and move through the air, they can easily be inhaled.
The Sheet Metal Workers International Association conducted several studies from 1986 to 2004 that showed as many as 21 percent of sheet metal workers tested showed scarring of the lining of their lungs.
Welders worked around a great deal of equipment that was made of asbestos or treated with the material. Welding rods, for example, were typically coated with a mixture that contained up to 15 percent asbestos. When those rods were heated, asbestos fibers were released into the air and inhaled. The welding process creates a great deal of dust and smoke.
Once the welding was complete, workers would usually grind down any extraneous materials that would also release particles of dust into the air. Even the gear many welders wore, contained asbestos to protect them from fire.
These included gloves that were made of asbestos as well as blankets to help ward off excessive heat. When these were worn, asbestos fibers were easily released into the air and inhaled. Welders could have had asbestos fibers on their clothing and shoes, or even in their hair, putting others at-risk of asbestos-related diseases.
Many welders working on naval and other types of vessels may have contracted several diseases caused by asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma.
If you would like information on workplace safety you might also want to read www.osea.com/