Written By: Michelle Whitmer,
Last modified: September 14, 2021
Quick Facts
  • National Employment, 2021:
    128,220
  • Similar Occupations:
    Sheet metal manufacturing, motor vehicle manufacturing, trailer manufacturing
  • Previously Exposed:
    Yes
  • Still Being Exposed:
    Yes
  • Asbestos-Related Disease Risk:
    High
  • States with Highest Employment:
    California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois

How Are Metal Workers Exposed to Asbestos?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has recognized that asbestos exposure has been a problem in the metal works industry. That’s because metal workers have worked around and directly used asbestos products as they design, cut and weld metal.

Metal workers include welders, forge men, foundry workers, iron workers, blacksmiths, sheet metal workers, structural metal craftsmen, tinsmiths, smelters, metal lathers and other similar trades. Each of these trades exists in branches of the U.S. military and in the private sector. Areas of the private sector that employ metal workers include steel mills, factories, industrial plants and the shipbuilding industry.

Cutting or sawing or even disturbing asbestos-treated products released the toxic, microscopic asbestos fibers into the air, where they were inhaled or ingested by workers. Another way metal workers were exposed to asbestos was through asbestos pipes and insulated walls that contained asbestos products. Anything that loosened those products released more asbestos fibers. The welding of metal sheets, the installing of metal studs and drilling into cement often put more asbestos into the air. Metalwork that was performed on Navy ships unleashed streams of asbestos fibers.

Workers who have been exposed to asbestos fibers have developed a variety of illnesses, including mesothelioma cancer, which can take up to 50 years to develop after initial exposure.

Asbestos Products Associated with Metal Work

Metalbestos label on silver canister
Metalbestos was a brand name metal chimney flue that contained asbestos insulation.

Because of the extreme heat metal workers faced on the job, they often were required to wear and use heat-resistant equipment to protect themselves.

Metal lathers and sheet metal workers often toiled on construction sites, where there was an increased risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses from contaminated building materials.

Coatings

Metal workers often sprayed or coated metals with an asbestos finish to make them both more durable and resistant to heat. Eventually, the coatings broke down and released microscopic asbestos fibers.

Edge of metal sheet with asbestos
Galbestos metal panels were manufactured with an asbestos felt coating.
Construction Materials

Metal workers worked around insulated walls, floors and ceilings that contained asbestos. Asbestos cement, asbestos bricks, asbestos pipes and different types of asbestos insulation were common at metal worker job sites. Bumping into and working around these materials can lead to significant exposure over time.

Hot Top Insulation

Foundry workers were exposed to asbestos in hot top insulation, which is used to line the inner surface of mold metal castings during the solidification of hot metals.

Long white asbestos work glove made of asbestos
Asbestos gauntlet gloves were used to prevent burns.
Metal Products

Some metal workers manufactured asbestos metal products such as asbestos-containing metal chimney flues and galvanized asbestos sheets. This work involved handling raw asbestos fibers, which led to high levels of exposure.

Safety Gear

Gloves, jackets, helmets, masks, aprons and shields all contained asbestos because the mineral was so effective at deflecting heat. With repeated use these materials can fray and release asbestos fibers.

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Manufacturers Who Made Products Metal Workers Use

Metal workers have used or have worked around asbestos products manufactured by textile companies and construction product manufacturers. They were also exposed working for manufacturers of metal products that contained asbestos.

  • Aspromet Company: This company made a product called Asbestos Protected Metal that was installed in hangars belonging to the U.S. armed forces.
  • Foseco: This company made asbestos foundry products including hot top insulation, Ferrux hot topping compound, metal casting core coatings, exothermic riser sleeves (Kalminex brand) and furnace linings.
  • Garlock Sealing Technologies: Garlock manufactured asbestos-containing gaskets, seals, cloth and packing that were commonly used in foundries and construction sites where metal workers were employed.
  • Guard-Line Inc.: Guard-Line made asbestos gloves used by welders and metal workers.
  • H.H. Richardson Company: This company manufactured Galbestos panels, a galvanized, corrugated sheet metal that bore an asbestos felt coating.
  • Johns Manville: JM made many asbestos insulating products and construction materials, including asbestos cement and heat panels, used in the construction of buildings and ships. Metal workers who helped build buildings and ships often encountered JM’s asbestos products.
  • Owens-Illinois Inc.: This company manufactured Kaylo brand asbestos block insulation and pipe covering that was used on job sites where metal workers were employed.
  • Richmond Fireproof Door Company: Richmond made an asbestos metal fireproof door under the brand name Fyrgard.
  • Steel Grip: Steel Grip made asbestos gloves and asbestos shoe coverings used by steel workers.
  • Wallace-Murray Corp.: This company manufactured asbestos metal products under the brand name Metalbestos.

Metal Workers and Mesothelioma

Research has documented increased rates of mesothelioma in metal workers as a result of the occupational asbestos exposure they’ve endured.

  • In June 2015, a British Medical Journal article reported asbestos-related deaths in Belgian workers from 2001 to 2009. The researchers found that metal manufacturing workers are almost three times more likely to die of mesothelioma than the general population.
  • The American Journal of Industrial Medicine published a study in February 2015 reporting that even though sheet metal workers rarely handle asbestos directly, they are seven times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population.
  • A study by the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust found that 32% of the union workers in the sheet metal industry between 1986 and 1990 had specific lung abnormalities consistent with occupational lung diseases. When the study later was extended to include workers examined until 2004, the percentage dropped to 21%, an indication that increased safety measures were helping.
  • New York City sheet metal workers in building construction were exposed to asbestos at dangerously high levels, according to a study done in 1982 by the Occupational Health Program of Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Much of it involved the use of sprayed asbestos insulation, which was banned in 1972.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos exposure also causes four other types of cancer including lung cancer, ovarian cancer and laryngeal cancer. It is also the only cause of asbestosis, a progressive and incurable pulmonary disease.

If you’ve been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, seek out a doctor specializing in your specific diagnosis to access the latest treatments and clinical trials. Treatments are available to help people live longer with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions.

Legal Options for Metal Workers Exposed to Asbestos

Metal workers have successfully sued manufacturers using asbestos in products that caused them to develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Workers may be eligible to file personal injury lawsuits and trust fund claims. Loved ones who lost someone to mesothelioma may qualify to file a wrongful death lawsuit or a claim with a trust fund.

  • In 2017, the Delaware Supreme Court denied asbestos defendant RCH Newco’s motion to be removed from a mesothelioma lawsuit filed by ironworker and foreman Jesse Hastings. Hastings claimed he developed mesothelioma as a result of installing Galbestos panels in DuPont facilities from 1951 to 1969 and in the 1980s. RCH Newco is the successor to H. H. Richardson Company that originally manufactured Galbestos. The outcome of the case is unpublished.
  • In 2010, a Pennsylvania jury awarded $50 million to the estate of steel mill worker Barry Baumener, whose surviving family claimed he died of malignant mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure during his career as a metal worker. Of the 24 asbestos defendants involved in the lawsuit, Ferro Engineering of Oglebay Norton was the only company that did not choose to settle with the plaintiff before the verdict was issued. Ferro was responsible for $2 million of the verdict and the others were immune to the verdict because they settled with the plaintiff.
  • Edward Walton, a metalsmith in the U.S. Navy, was diagnosed with asbestos-caused lung cancer in 2005. He was awarded $21 million in a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the valves, gaskets and insulation products that were provided to the Navy and caused his exposure to asbestos.
  • Charles Sparks, a sheet metal worker at Longbeach Naval Shipyard, won a lawsuit against Owens-Illinois, Inc. in 1995 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. The verdict was upheld by an appeals court and became a standard for future asbestos suits, putting the burden of proof on defendants in asbestos product lawsuits.

It is beneficial to find an expert mesothelioma lawyer to handle your claim because they have the experience and resources to secure the most compensation for your case. Consider looking for a mesothelioma law firm that practices nationwide because they will know the best jurisdiction in which to file your claim.


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