Asbestos products were used in the ironworks and metal works industry for much of the 1900s. Before strict safety measures were enacted in the 1980s, ironworkers and related workers did their difficult work in places that were rife with asbestos exposure.
Iron Workers Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment, 2018: 18,500
- Similar Occupations: Boilermakers, carpenters, masonry workers, assemblers and fabricators, welders, cutters, and solderers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: High
The major reason ironworkers were exposed to asbestos so often was that the process of working with iron and other metals involves temperatures up to 3000 degrees F. Asbestos was often made into the factory machinery that ironworkers used.
Lagging full of asbestos was wrapped around pipes, furnaces, ovens, tanks, rolling mills, cranes, boilers, and generators to prevent fires. Asbestos also was used to make protective clothing for workers, such as mitts, aprons, coats, and pants.
It also is thought that ironworkers who worked in the shipbuilding industry and around construction sites also had higher exposure to asbestos because the toxin was mixed with thousands of construction products.
Doctors were aware of the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma since the 1930s, but ironworkers were seldom warned of the dangers. Family members of ironworkers also were at risk because the workers brought home asbestos fibers on their clothes, which could be inhaled by spouses and children.
Iron & Metal Workers Asbestos Exposure
There are many jobs in metal works, including ironwork, that had high asbestos exposure dangers. Some metalworkers were employed in large factories, and others did nobs in smaller shops or construction sites. Some of the metalworkers most exposed to asbestos were:
- Iron and aluminum workers: Both were exposed to asbestos during their work because the areas where they were employed were built with asbestos-containing materials. The heavy machines they used also were a possible source of asbestos exposure because they were made with parts that featured asbestos.
- Steel mill workers: Asbestos was used throughout steel mills because of the regular threat of heat and fire. In one study of workers in steel mills, asbestos fibers were found in the bodies of production and maintenance workers.
- Blacksmiths: Asbestos was a regular danger because their work required high levels of heat and fire. They would often work in areas coated in asbestos. Their protective clothing also was made from asbestos.
- Welders: Like other metal workers, they were surrounded by high heat so they always had asbestos-containing material on their bodies. Several studies have found that welders are at higher risk of mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure.
Metal & Iron Workers Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
Because of the high use of asbestos in ironworks and other metalworks occupations, there have been many in the industry affected by mesothelioma. They have filed many lawsuits to pay for their medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
At least 60 trusts with $36 billion in assets have been established to pay mesothelioma victims. One example is from 2010 involving a former steel mill worker. His family was awarded $2 million after he died from mesothelioma. The company that exposed him to asbestos was Oglebay Norton, which made asbestos-containing products for the steel mill where he worked. That family also settled with two dozen other companies for an undisclosed sum.
Oglebay Norton is just one US metal works factory that was contaminated with asbestos. There are many others in virtually every US state.
Some of the companies that have been the subject of litigation in the ironworks and metalworks industries are:
- Harvey Aluminum
- USS Posco Industries
- Reynolds Aluminum
- AK Steel Holding Corp.
- Martin-Marietta Aluminum
- Alcoa Aluminum
- Bethlehem Steel
- USX Corp.
- Weirton Steel
- LTV Steel
- Nucor Corp.