While compiling a list of tradesmen and tradeswomen most likely to have been exposed to asbestos, there are many that immediately rise to the top of the list. Insulators, pipefitters, electricians, steel workers, shipbuilders – all of those seem the most logical occupations connected to asbestos and asbestos-related diseases. But dig a little deeper and one might come up with other workers who were regularly exposed to the toxic mineral but may not have – over the years – received as much attention. Welders fall into that category, and a welders asbestos exposure risk is still severe.
Quite simply, a welder is a person that works with tools that join metals by applying heat, sometimes with pressure or sometimes with the use of an “intermediate” or filler metal that has a high melting point. Today’s welders might be compared to blacksmiths of old, who took on similar tasks but with different tools and methods.
Welders work in a huge variety of industries and are often independent contractors or “contract” employees that might go from place to place to perform their duties as a welder. Some of those industries might include:
• Auto manufacturing
• Power plants
• Steel mills
• Electric companies
• Various kinds of construction
Because asbestos was long-known for its heat- and fire-resistant qualities, it was commonly used in just about any industrial scenario that involved high temperatures. Until the mid-1970s, asbestos was found in a number of products that may have been used by welders. Most specifically, it was used in the manufacture of welding rods. Often referred to as welding electrodes, these rods are used to conduct current through a work piece to fuse two separate pieces together. In the early- to mid-20th century, these rods were usually coated with asbestos or contained asbestos.
When one uses the welding process to fuse metals together, smoke and dust are created. When asbestos was used in welding rods, the smoke and dust would contain tiny asbestos particles that would circulate through the air, where they could be inhaled by the welders and others working in the vicinity. The grinding down of remaining welding matter often created even more toxic dust, and because welders often work in tight spaces, inhalation was common as ventilation was probably poor.
While it may not be the case today, welders were usually not encouraged to wear any sort of masks, respirators, or other protective gear that may have halted this exposure. It wasn’t because they were negligent or didn’t care about their own well-being. In most cases, welders were made to believe that the asbestos was safe and that they faced no health risks while welding.
The connection between asbestos and mesothelioma has long been established. Welders who were unknowingly exposed to asbestos and have now been surprised with a diagnosis of asbestos-caused cancer may have a right to compensation under the law. Negligent manufacturers and employers have been identified in a number of successful cases filed by welders. Don’t hesitate to gather more information about your legal rights!