Iron workers help build bridges, skyscrapers, tunnels, dams, hospitals and factories. Their work is hard, time-sensitive, intensive, and oftentimes performed in the bitter cold or sweltering heat.
Unfortunately, many iron workers face asbestos exposure on the job. This exposure later results in asbestosis and pleural plaques diagnosis.
Iron worker exposure to asbestos happens in many different ways. For example, metal girders, used in the majority of construction projects as framework for buildings, often contained asbestos. When piercing these girders with rivets they released asbestos fibers into the air.
More lethal than metal girders was the asbestos paint sprayed on iron beams to increase their melt-resistance temperature. This protective technique for the girders was a routine practice through the 1970s, before the dangers of asbestos were publicly understood. Asbestos paint was not only inhaled by painters, but other iron workers also. Winds on the construction site often carried the asbestos far from the original spray location.
Iron workers usually wore protective clothing, including gloves, aprons, pants and vests, made from asbestos. Once that gear begins to break down, asbestos fibers release in the air. These fibers also lodged in clothing and were later inhaled by family members.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are approximately 58,100 iron and steel workers in the United States. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limits the amount of asbestos used in workplaces to prevent exposure. However, there are many older buildings and products still out there constructed before the dangers of asbestos were fully understood. Men and women in the remodeling and retro-fitting trades must use extreme caution when working to avoid asbestos exposure.