Boilermakers and workers handle all aspects of boiler maintenance and operation. Some professionals focus on a particular area, such as installation, steamfitting, and pipefitting. Engine room workers are specialized boiler workers. All of them are at risk of asbestos exposure that can cause mesothelioma, a fatal cancer of the lung lining. (Asbestos.com)
The US Department of Labor states there is two major kinds of boiler work: boiler operation and boiler production. Workers in the first group build the machines in plants and install them on the property. Those who work in the second group are responsible for the daily oversight of engine rooms and boiler rooms. Workers in both groups are responsible for cleaning, adjusting, and repairing the boilers.
Boiler work is difficult, and the workers need to handle heavy, heated parts in a safe manner. They must also be skilled in avoiding asbestos exposure that has been part of the profession for decades. Commercial boilers usually have several types of asbestos insulation. This is friable insulation that can cause boilermaker workers to develop mesothelioma.
According to a study in the International Journal of Radiation Biology, former boiler workers were among those with the highest rates of mesothelioma – six times that of the general population.
Boilermaker Workers Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment: 14,500
- Similar Occupations: Assemblers and fabricators, elevator installers and repairers, industrial machinery mechanics, insulation workers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Medium
Boilermakers and Asbestos Exposure
Boiler work is some of the most dangerous in the world when it comes to asbestos exposure. In Australia, 94 mesothelioma patients who were diagnosed between 1986 and 1995 said they were exposed to asbestos because of attending, installing, cleaning and making boilers. According to one industrial hygienist, working on asbestos boilers carried threat for serious asbestos exposure. Not only did boiler workers handle products containing asbestos each day; they also had to do things that crushed or crumbled asbestos-containing products that made them highly dangerous.
For example, a boilermaker might cut half-rounds out of pre-molded asbestos insulation to cover the straight stretches of pipe. These would then be installed with ways that would create even more asbestos dust.
When they would repair broken boilers, workers would use products containing asbestos to put them back into position. For example, they might wrap the asbestos tape around a piece of loose insulation, or use joint compounds to fill cracks.
Some jobs the boilermaker did require them to place raw asbestos into the boiler. In some work, mechanics were told to pack boiler joints with loose asbestos fibers. Other job requirements mandated the workers to mix raw asbestos with other types of ingredients to create cement for the walls of the machine’s pipes.
Scientific Studies on Boilermaker Workers Asbestos Exposure
Researchers from the University of Michigan in 2007 released a study on health problems among unionized boilermakers. Researchers found a higher rate of interstitial fibrosis, dyspnea, and pleural plaques in workers with a least 10 years of experience. Health complications got worse the longer the workers were employed in the trade.
A study in Norway made a prediction on the incidence of mesothelioma and lung cancer for healthy people compared to the true incidence in a group of boiler workers. They expected 37 lung cancer cases but documented 50.
Boilermaker Workers Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
One boilermaker lawsuit involved a man named Clarence Nolan who filed his suit against 12 companies, including Weil-McLain, a boilermaker manufacturer. The other 11 companies settled, but this one case went to trial and he won a $2.3 million verdict.
Some of the boiler and boiler parts manufacturers that have been involved in asbestos lawsuits are:
- Asbestos Corporation Limited
- Burnham Corporation
- Crown Boiler Company
- Cleaver-Brooks Company