If you are a plumber or pipefitter, you know there are many differences between the 2 occupations, and you probably cringe when people assume they are the same job. That said, plumbers and pipefitters do share at least 1 serious on-the-job hazard: possible exposure to asbestos. Today, both plumbers and pipefitters must follow important safety rules that regulate how they handle asbestos-containing products, like cement pipes. These relatively new standards are in place to ensure that in the event that workers come into contact with asbestos, they know how to keep themselves—and others—safe.
Unfortunately, for decades the dangers of asbestos were not widely known or made public. As a result, countless workers were exposed without warning over the course of their careers to this potentially mesothelioma-causing substance.
How Were Plumbers & Pipefitters Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Because it is incredibly resilient, strong, and heat-resistant, dozens of companies chose to use it as an ingredient in the manufacturing of thousands of products produced before 1980. The problem is that when asbestos-containing products are damaged or wear down due to age, they can release tiny, dangerous fibers into the air—where they can be inhaled or carried home on a worker’s clothing in the form of dust. Wherever exposure takes place, asbestos fibers can get stuck in a person’s body and may eventually lead to the development of mesothelioma.
Before safety rules became law, thousands of plumbers and pipefitters were potentially exposed to asbestos just by doing their jobs. How? It’s not hard to imagine how work activities like installing, repairing, or replacing broken parts; cutting and bending pipes; soldering; and cutting holes in walls, ceilings, and floors could release asbestos fibers into the air. There’s a long list of asbestos-containing products and tools that may have been used every day by these hardworking men and woman. The list includes:
- Welding rods
Mesothelioma Can Take Decades to Develop
It only takes one inhaled asbestos fiber to cause mesothelioma, and with so many potential sources of repeated workplace exposure, it’s understandable why plumbers and pipefitters are such a high-risk group.
Mesothelioma often takes a long time to develop—as much as 20 to 50 years. That means plumbers and pipefitters who were exposed decades ago may just now be receiving a diagnosis. Today, there is still potential for on-the-job asbestos exposure, but the threat is much lower due to public awareness and much-needed safety regulations.