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Hidden Dangers in the Workplace: Welders Had More to Fear Than the Sparks

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There are many jobs where risk is involved: police officers, firefighters, oil rig workers — even veterinarians (because you never know when man’s best friend won’t want his nails trimmed). However, the individuals that choose these jobs also understand the risks involved. You know that as a cop, you could be shot in the field. As a firefighter, you may have to run in to a burning building. And as a vet, you may get injured by a dog bite.

But what if certain risks for a specific occupation weren’t so clear? For many welders, they are just now learning about a serious cancer-causing hazard they may have been exposed to on the job: asbestos.

Known Dangers in the Welding Industry

Blue-collar workers like welders are the backbone of America. These men and women work hard, day-in and day-out, often doing labor-intensive work that other people shy away from. Welders are the unsung heroes that make this country great.

If you think about it, welders have probably worked on many things you use every day — from car parts to bridges to ships to railroads. Welders’ craftsmanship can be found nearly everywhere you look, even in local construction projects.

Picture a welder with that medieval helmet and those heat-resistant gloves. When you think about the trade, taking multiple safety precautions is almost synonymous with the job. Welders are exposed to hot metal, open flames, and bright lights. They bend steel and repair bridges and ships, so they must take the utmost care in all they do. In some of the hottest conditions, they must protect their bodies and eyes from the known dangers around them.

To say that a welder’s job is dangerous is an understatement, but what about the risks they don’t know about?

The Tragic Consequences of an Honest Day’s Work

Prior to 1980, the risk of asbestos exposure was potentially a daily threat for welders — a danger they were likely never warned about. Many of the parts they worked with every day were often made with asbestos-containing materials. For example, if a welder worked with auto parts, valves and gaskets were known to be made with asbestos-containing materials. Or if a welder worked in a shipyard, he or she may have been exposed because many older ships were built with all types of asbestos-containing materials. Even the tools welders used were not always free of asbestos — most welding rods were made with asbestos-containing materials and then coated with asbestos for a final layer of heat protection.

Due to its impressive resistance to heat, asbestos may have also been used in the protective gear that welders wore every single day at work. They thought they were doing the right thing by suiting up and staying safe from the heat and flames; however, they were also covering their bodies with a deadly mineral we now know causes mesothelioma.

When left undisturbed, asbestos is not considered extremely dangerous. However, when asbestos-containing products break or wear down, asbestos fibers can become airborne and threaten the health and safety of trade workers. Asbestos fibers can be inhaled or carried home on workers’ skin or clothing in the form of dust, which means they could also unknowingly expose their families. Asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, and there have also been cases of secondhand exposure, through which dust from a worker’s clothing caused a family member to develop mesothelioma. Imagine working hard to achieve the American dream and as a result, your child is diagnosed with a deadly cancer. There are no words for the pain caused by asbestos.

Sadly, many manufacturers knew about the dangers of asbestos exposure but did nothing to warn workers or the general public. Welders simply did their job and provided for their families, and although they were surrounded by bright sparks on a daily basis, they had no idea they were actually in the dark when it came to a potential mesothelioma diagnosis in the future.

Stephanie St. Martin is a sponsored contributor to Mesothelioma Help Now.