Carpenters are one of the foundation occupations of the construction industry. Before there was such a thing as metal studs, carpenters were responsible for the interior construction of virtually every residence and commercial space because they framed out the inside (and often also the outside) of a home or office building. From that frame came walls and ceilings.

Even now in a more technology-driven time, carpenters are often called upon for framing and other work. Residential carpenters install insulation and drywall in homes. They also Commercial carpenters are involved in the construction of large buildings or bridges, fabricating the wooden forms for cement footings or pillars.

Carpenters use a variety of hand and power tools to cut and shape. They typically work in cramped spaces, and their job requires them to do a significant amount of lifting, standing, and kneeling, which can cause muscle strains. In addition, they experience a high rate of personal injuries because of falls from ladders and bumps, bruises, scrapes and cuts from hammers, saws and other tools. They are also injured through asbestos exposure when they remodel older homes and offices that contain insulation made from asbestos.

The potentially rampant asbestos exposure can lay a foundation for long-time carpenters - or those who with concentrated asbestos exposure histories - to develop lung cancer or a form of mesothelioma.

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Products and Locations

Asbestos was used in all types of pre-1980 residential and commercial construction, such as floor and ceiling tiles, boiler rooms and around insulated pipes.

Occupational Exposure

Part of a carpenter’s job description is remodelling commercial buildings and houses. Many of these renovations are made on structures that were built when asbestos was widely used. That means that these carpenters must cut away asbestos-containing moulding and insulation and remove floor and ceiling tiles that may have had asbestos added to them to make them fireproof and sound proof. This work causes asbestos dust to be released into the air and onto the workers themselves when these products are cut or disturbed in any way.

Another dangerous practice that put these workers at risk for exposure was remodelling wearing only a face mask. Face masks do not protect the wearer from asbestos fibers in a high concentration. That is why regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandate the use of respirators.

Carpenters who worked on construction projects before 1980 actually handled asbestos sheets and were required to cut them into sizes that were appropriate for different applications. This also resulted in carpenters being covered in asbestos dust.

Scientific Studies

In a 1983 study, researchers evaluated 127 buildings throughout the U.S. and discovered that more than 50 percent of them had chrysotile-containing fireproofing insulation sprayed on ceilings. At the start of renovation activities by various workers, including carpenters, average asbestos fiber concentrations at workers’ breathing levels were less than 2 fibers per cubic centimeter.

However, once the removal of the sprayed on materials began, the workers were exposed to an average of 16.4 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter when the material was left dry and removed. When the material was wetted down before removal, the airborne fiber concentrations were less than 2 fibers per cubic centimeter.

In a 2010 case study published in a Danish medical journal, physicians evaluated a 55-year-old carpenter who developed a pleural effusion (buildup of fluid) in the right lung in 2000 and in the left lung in 2003. He also developed pleurisy, an inflammation in the lining of the lungs that causes extreme pain during breathing. The physicians could not find any medical explanations for the condition.

However, they did determine that the carpenter was exposed to asbestos for six months in 1971 while working with roof sheets made of asbestos cement. The physicians concluded that the carpenter’s pleurisy and pleural effusions were caused by the exposure.


The family of deceased carpenter Searr Delcambre filed an asbestos injury lawsuit in 2008 against the A.O. Smith Corp. and 67 other companies. The family claimed Delcambre developed an asbestos-related disease from working around the products manufactured by these companies.

The lawsuit suit alleged the named defendants were negligent for not adequately test their asbestos-containing products before widely distributing them and for not warning consumers of the dangers of asbestos exposure. The lawsuit is pending.


U.S. Gypsum Company manufactured asbestos-containing roofing, plaster, cement and adhesives. Its bankruptcy reorganization plan included an Asbestos Trust.

Congoleum Corporation manufactured asbestos floor products. Its bankruptcy reorganization plan included an Asbestos Trust.

Georgia-Pacific Company manufactured asbestos joint compound and drywall adhesive. It has been named in a huge number of asbestos occupational injury suits.

Fast Facts

  • National Employment, 2011: 578, 910
  • Current Average Age: 48
  • Similar Occupations: Carpet Installers, Cement Masons and Terrazzo Workers, Construction Laborers and Helpers, Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers and tapers, Insulation Workers, Millwrights, Tile and Marble Setters
  • Previously Exposed: Yes
  • Still Being Exposed: Yes
  • Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Moderate
  • States with Highest Employment: California, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida

Additional Resources

  1. Health Library: Carpenters. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2012, from:
  2. Occupational Outlook Handbook. (2012, March 29). Retrieved from:
  3. Paik, Nom Wan, et al. (1983). Worker Exposure to Asbestos During Removal of Sprayed Material and Renovation Activity in Buildings Containing Sprayed Material. American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal, 6(44) 428-432 doi: 10.1080/1529(800) 615-2270085
  4. Petersen, R. et al. (2010, October 25). Benign pleural effusion in a carpenter exposed to asbestos. Ugeskr Laeger , 172(43):2965-6. Retrieved from:
  5. Pflieger, Martin. (1990, January 19). Carpenters Build On Knowledge Of Asbestos. The Morning Call. Retrieved from:
  6. Yates, David. (2008, January 15). Second asbestos suit filed on deceased carpenter's behalf, names 68 defendants. Retrieved from:

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