How Are Metal Workers Exposed to Asbestos?

Metal workers are exposed to asbestos more often than they are aware of. People working in the profession may handle equipment and work around areas that oftentimes have asbestos sprayed on them or used inside the product. The reality of learning you may have exposed yourself to asbestos and could develop mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases can be shocking. Experiencing feelings of unease and anxiety are normal; learning more about your exposure and next steps is important.

The field of metalworking includes a diverse range of jobs that focuses on assembling, constructing, and repairing metals of all kinds. Metal chimneys, steam pipes, and metal door gaskets are some metals sprayed with asbestos for their heat resistance qualities. Those asbestos metals may become dangerous to workers when they are cut through and the dried asbestos particles become airborne. Sheet metal workers who worked from the 1970s and on are a high-risk group. At that time, workers were unaware of the dangerous effects of long-term asbestos exposure and were unable to protect themselves. Now there are measures that workers can take to protect themselves from asbestos exposure and legal options for those who were exposed and are now experiencing the side effects.

Asbestos Exposure at Reynolds Metal Corporation

The Reynolds Metal Corporation is one of multiple companies that produced asbestos products such as aluminum and cement. Workers both at the plant and working with their products were unknowingly exposed to asbestos products. In 1986 the company was sued by an employee who worked at one of their plants in Alabama for 30 years. The man was claiming his asbestosis, a lung disease caused from inhaling asbestos particles, was caused by his exposure while working at Reynolds. After battling with the company for two years, he ended up winning his suit and receiving financial compensation for his diagnosis and wrongful asbestos exposure.

Decades later, workers in and around their facilities are showing signs of mesothelioma, a cancer which forms in the linings of the lungs. Mesothelioma symptoms such as body aches, chest pain, and difficulty breathing are all telltale signs of the cancer. Awareness for the possible connection between asbestos and mesothelioma came as early as the 1940s, yet the popular aluminum wrap brand decided against warning their employees of the exposure they were facing every day at work.

Asbestos Products Associated with Metal Workers

Asbestos exposure for metal workers can come from direct or indirect contact since the fibers can be inhaled and lodged into the lungs or lung lining. Asbestos is known to be resistant to heat and chemicals, making it the perfect fit to be used as a protective layer for many items. Metal workers can find themselves exposed to asbestos products through associated items they work around including:

  • Cement
  • Brake linings
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Heat-protecting equipment
  • Pipes
  • Heating and cooling units
  • Roofing materials
  • Ductwork

All of these items can be found where metal workers are fabricating their work or when installing equipment in buildings. Their exposure can occur when they are around or working with these items. Working around metals sprayed with asbestos and cutting into them to repair, replace, or update the item could expose you to asbestos. Since they often work in these areas for extended periods, long-term exposure of asbestos may cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases.

Occupational Safety Measures for Workers

Since learning the effects of asbestos on humans, occupational safety measures have been implemented for workers who may come into contact with asbestos products. The United States Department of Labor has outlined specific measures for those working around, transporting, or constructing asbestos items. Workers must be given access to the proper asbestos personal protective (PPE) equipment including but not limited to full-body coveralls, respirators, face shields, face masks, and gloves.

Employers need to ensure there is proper ventilation in areas where their employees are working around and with asbestos products. This can be done by adding an air exhaust, supplying replacement air into the enclosed space, or adding a HEPA filtration system. The asbestos may sit in the air or settle on top of items if there is poor ventilation or none at all. The lingering debris can then be transferred onto clothing, skin, and hair and into workers’ homes, potentially causing secondhand asbestos exposure. Adding ventilation should be a top priority for any occupation working around asbestos.

Training programs are in place to inform employers of their responsibilities to keep their workers safe. The safety guidelines created by the Department of Labor is one place to refer to in case an employer is uncertain of the asbestos regulations. Regardless, each company should have a person on staff dedicated to knowing and updating asbestos policies for their company. If you use the correct PPE around asbestos, your employer must give you a decontamination area to change from your asbestos clothes and dispose of them correctly.

Legal Options for Metal Workers Exposed on the Job

You may become aware of your mesothelioma diagnosis decades after unnoticed asbestos exposure while metalworking because of mesothelioma’s long latency period. You can still receive financial and medical support if you learn about your asbestos-related disease years after exposure. If your employer exposed you to asbestos without your knowledge or proper PPE, you may have a case to file. Two options to explore include work-related and wrongful death compensation. Worker’s compensation can be applied to asbestos with proof of your mesothelioma diagnosis or any medical treatment.

Wrongful death compensations can be filed by relatives, children, friends, or financial dependents following the death of a loved one from mesothelioma. After losing someone it can be unimaginable to think about the next steps, including planning a funeral and final burial site. Both worker’s compensation and wrongful death compensation do have a statute of limitations and it is important to access them as soon as possible before they are gone.

Mesothelioma and Metal Workers – What to do Next?

The link between metal workers and a mesothelioma diagnosis can be connected directly to their long-term asbestos exposure during their time working around it. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that may take decades to show symptoms, and by the time they are present it could be too late to seek effective cancer treatment. You may show signs of mesothelioma if you experience prolonged chest pain, difficulty breathing, fluid buildup around the lungs, or body aches.

Seeking medical advice from a mesothelioma specialist when you experience symptoms may help your prognosis and quality of life. There currently aren’t any successful treatments to completely eradicate mesothelioma, but medical advancements in research have given patients a better outlook. Depending on your stage, you may be suggested to undergo surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, palliative care, or a combination of a few to extend your life expectancy.

A first step in taking hold of your diagnosis is talking to one of our patient advocates so they can help you access any compensations you may be entitled to. This process can take up to 6 months as the necessary information to unlock your compensation needs to be gathered. If you are nearing the end of your statute of limitations for your case, you should file now. A lawsuit can be filed quickly to secure your compensation. Learn the specifics of your case by speaking to our team.


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