Machinists work in many industries, from skyscraper construction to shipyards. In whatever industry they work, they create precision-cut metal parts. This is a highly skilled profession that has risks, however, and one of them is potential asbestos exposure. Machinists who worked in the field decades ago were at higher risk of many asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma.
Machinists Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment, 2018: 395,200
- Similar Occupations: Assemblers and fabricators, boilermakers, millwrights, metal and plastic machine workers, sheet metal workers, welders.
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Medium
During the process of cutting, scraping and grinding to make precision parts, machinists are often subject to high levels of vibration which can cause large dust clouds. This industrial process creates heat and friction, and asbestos was once used often in the materials and tools to prevent high heat.
But the vibrating parts would cause asbestos particles to become airborne, which would mix with the dust in the workshop, and create a hazardous work environment. Asbestos also was used in machinists’ workshops as a good insulator. Asbestos retards heat, chemicals, and electricity, so the toxic material was often used to cover hot steam pipes, electric wires, and boilers to protect workers and the building from fire. Also, one of the common ways machinists were exposed to asbestos was the making and installation of gaskets.
It was only in the 1980s was it well understand that asbestos is dangerous to machinists and it was banned from use.
Machinists Asbestos Exposure
From the 1920s through the 1970s, asbestos was used heavily in the machining industry. Machinists that were exposed to the most asbestos were usually working on the finishing stages of a project, especially if the project involved making and installing gaskets. These machines cut asbestos graphite sheets and ground it to the ideal size and shape. Both cutting and grinding released high levels of asbestos into the air.
The modern machines used in the industry today are intended to reduce the amount of dust that machinists are exposed to each day. Machines are now controlled with water jets, lasers, and electric wires to slice through metal pieces. These advancements in technology reduce the risks to workers.
While working around tools and machines all day will always carry some risk, the machine shops of today are safer than in the past and better equipped. Modern machine shops do not contain asbestos, either.
However, if you are a machinist and work in an older workshop or factory, it is possible that you could still be exposed to asbestos and get mesothelioma. Many older buildings were full of asbestos for insulation, and there also was asbestos in flooring, ceiling tiles, work surfaces and inside walls to retard fire and heat.
Anyone who does any maintenance on these buildings should be well aware of the asbestos risks and wear proper safety equipment. It also is required that asbestos is removed from a building be disposed of in a proper manner.
Scientific Studies on Machinist Asbestos Exposure
It is well known that many types of metalworkers, including machinists, were at higher risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure. One study looked at 13,000 welders and found these workers had much higher risks for mesothelioma, lung cancer, and bladder cancer.
Another study of sheet metal workers showed they were at higher risk of developing mesothelioma, especially those who started in the field before asbestos regulations had been enacted.
Machinist Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
Two large companies that had machinists make asbestos gaskets and sealants were the John Crane Company and Power Engineering. Both companies have been sued in state and federal courts for exposing workers to asbestos.