A boilermaker is a tradesperson who specializes in the installation and maintenance of residential and commercial boilers, vats, and other types of pressurized containers used to produce hot water and steam. The hot water and steam is used in buildings for heat and hot water spigots, among other things. Boilermakers are called upon when a boiler breaks down and is in need of repair or when a new boiler is ordered and requires installation. Boilermakers are involved in all facets of boiler repair and construction. They read blueprints and building layouts, they supervise foundation updating and layout, they assist in the moving and setting of boilers, and they test the boilers for defects.
Since the early 1920s, companies that manufactured boilers have used asbestos to insulate their products. Asbestos is one of the most effective and affordable insulators that can be used. Asbestos was used on the piping, the joints, and the doors of the boiler. It was also used extensively in the boiler room. Whole sheets of asbestos were wrapped around the main pipes going into and out of the boiler. The floors and walls of the boiler itself were also often wrapped in layers of asbestos to prevent fire and heat damage should there be a malfunction. Finally, the walls, floors, and ceiling of the boiler room were covered in asbestos to help contain heat.
Asbestos and Boilermaking
As can be expected, many boilermakers came into direct contact with fixed and airborne asbestos every day. It was not long before many boilermakers developed severe and chronic respiratory conditions such as mesothelioma due to prolonged and frequent asbestos exposure. This was made all the worse due to the fact that boilermakers often worked in confined spaces with little or no ventilation.
Although asbestos is no longer used in conjunction with boilers and has been banned since the 1980s, it is still not present in older boilers and boiler rooms. A new boiler can go for thirty years or more before it requires maintenance. This means some of the last boilers using asbestos insulation have not been properly cleared of asbestos and are just now requiring maintenance. Even boiler rooms that have been labeled as cleared can still contain asbestos in the nooks and crannies of the boiler room and on the associated pipes.