A structural metal craftsperson’s job involves building with sheet mail, as well as performing repairs on various iron and steel structures. These craftspeople may use a wide variety of construction materials. In the context of their work, they may come in contact with different forms of insulation for the pipes, ducts, or structures on which they are working.
Studies show that career sheet metal workers with 30 or more years in the occupation experience a high risk for lung disorders caused by asbestos exposure. Structural metal craftsmen in this category have a 70% incidence of asbestos-related lung problems. Throughout most the 1900s asbestos use in the United States exceeded 18 million tons and was primarily utilized for its insulating properties. On the job exposure to asbestos was a daily occurrence for many structural metal craftsmen working in an environment where asbestos-containing insulation was used. Many of the products the sheet metal workers used were sprayed with insulation comprised mainly of asbestos.
Asbestos and Structural Metal Craftspeople
Asbestos exposure came not only from the sprayed-on insulation. Asbestos was also a component in paints used by sheet metal workers and in polishing compounds. The asbestos helped make the paints more durable and stopped rust on the metal. Additionally, heat-protective clothing worn by the structural metal craftsmen contained asbestos. The asbestos provided not only protection from fire and heat, it made the cloth tough and long lasting. Fibers from insulation, clothing, paint, and other materials can become airborne when the materials begin to decay or are disturbed during construction processes. The airborne fibers are inhaled, becoming lodged in the tissues of the lungs, and are not expelled by the body.
Results from a study of 1,300 sheet metals workers conducted in 1991 revealed that two percent of the workers had contracted mesothelioma due to occupational asbestos exposure. These findings were consistent with expectations for an industry with frequent asbestos exposure. Although many on-the-job safety hazards are carefully monitored and regulated, asbestos exposure was not one of these until the two last decades of the 1900s. Many workers were unaware of the dangers of asbestos exposure in their occupations, though their employers often knew the risks and chose not to inform their employees or provide protective wear.