Carpentry is a noble, age-old profession. Carpentry dates back to the biblical times and has been mentioned in many ancient texts. The term carpenter traditionally describes a person that works with wood. Those with very precise skills are often called “finishing” carpenters and design furniture, complete trim, stairs, cabinetry, and other tasks that require much patience and training. “Finishing” carpenters are especially known for their intricate handiwork. “Rough” carpenters do tasks such as large framing for commercial buildings and homes. Roofers and even shipwrights – those who build ocean vessels – are also considered to be carpenters.
Anyone involved with the construction industry, including carpenters, was in one way or another at risk of dangerous asbestos exposure. While a finishing carpenter is unlikely to encounter asbestos, rough carpenters most likely would. Those who framed or roofed buildings may have been exposed regularly.
Asbestos and Carpentry
Asbestos warnings did not occur until the 1970s. Although asbestos was banned in the late 1970s, products containing asbestos that were already on the market continued to be used well into the 1980s. Many companies were not concerned with the dangers so most construction workers were not provided with any sort of protection against asbestos exposure. Carpenters who built schools, offices, homes, and hospitals prior to this time were often surrounded by materials containing asbestos in every step of the construction process. Floor tiles, ceiling tiles, plasters, boards, asbestos paper, gypsum, paint, drywall, adhesive, cement, and shingles were among the many items that contained asbestos. Additionally, most building insulation contained asbestos due to its durability and resistance to fire and heat.
During World War II, shipbuilding was at its peak. Because ships had to be built so quickly, shipwrights often focused on speed instead of safety. Shipwrights during this time were therefore exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos. Ships were insulated with asbestos so anyone who worked near or aboard the ship inhaled the substance regularly. Shipwrights who worked in shipyards from the 1940s to 1960s were often diagnosed with diseases related to asbestos such as mesothelioma only two to three decades later. In fact, the entire shipbuilding industry has one of the highest rates of asbestos cancer in the world today. Even though materials containing asbestos are no longer used in the construction of new homes, buildings, or ships, carpenters that work in older buildings and ships must protect themselves from asbestos.