Boilermakers and Asbestos Exposure
Boilermakers are those employed to build, install, and repair boilers, which can include large heating containers, pressure containers, and vats associated with heating installations. Additionally, boilermakers may be called upon to test boilers for defects, assist in the moving of heating containers, update boiler foundations, and interpret blueprints that include boilers.
A History of Asbestos and the Boilermaker Trade
From about 1920 until the widespread asbestos warnings issued in the 1970s, asbestos’ insulating, heat-resistant, and fire-resistant properties made it a major component in almost all boilers. Many of the companies that manufactured boilers also created other products containing asbestos, including insulation, gaskets, and blanket-like lining materials that were used to ensure that the boiler would be absolutely heat resistant.
At the same time, most boilermakers were not aware that asbestos exposure could cause long term health problems. However, it is now known that there were boiler manufacturers who were aware that asbestos exposure was inherently dangerous and yet did nothing to protect their employees from exposure. Safety equipment like masks and protective clothing was not routinely utilized
How Were Boilermakers Exposed to Asbestos
Boilermakers – particularly those who worked prior to 1970 – were frequently exposed to asbestos fibers in the air, on the skin, and on clothing. The manufacture and installation of boilers required workers to sand, file, and hammer components that contained asbestos, releasing it into the air. Boilermakers were not only exposed to asbestos during the manufacture and installation of heating containers, but also during the repair, making their exposure nearly continuous. Additionally, boilers were often housed in areas with poor ventilation so those installing them or working on them would have been at increased risk of asbestos inhalation in particular.
Asbestos Exposure Is Still a Concern for Boilermakers
Boilers can last for decades – sometimes for 30 years or more. And unsurprisingly, older heating containers can require more repair work, so today’s boilermakers may still be exposed to asbestos containing components. This risk is higher when repair work involves the replacement of damaged asbestos insulation and components with safer materials. Unsuspecting boilermakers called to perform maintenance on older generation boilers may still be exposed to asbestos, even today.