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Iron Workers

Iron workers directly handled asbestos-containing products on the job. They also spent time at a broad range of worksites that put them at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

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Iron Workers and Asbestos Exposure

Before asbestos was phased out in the 1980s, iron workers faced exposure at work. Asbestos was a popular construction material for its lightweight, fire-resistant, and durable qualities, and many products contained the toxic substance.

Metalworkers may have been exposed to asbestos from the following products:

Iron workers’ protective gloves and clothing designed to keep them safe from high temperatures contained asbestos. When workers returned home at the end of the shift, their family may also have been exposed to the deadly fibers.

Sadly, few respiratory safety precautions existed for iron workers during the 20th century.

Most laborers worked without a proper mask. Fabrication shops often lacked adequate ventilation, trapping asbestos fibers in the workplace. Asbestos dust also entered the cabs of cranes and heavy equipment that iron workers operated.

Iron Workers and Asbestos Exposure Today

The risk of asbestos exposure to iron workers is much lower today. However, some level of threat remains. Workers specializing in reinforcement involved with renovating or demolishing old structures risk exposure when asbestos is disturbed and becomes airborne.

In a recent survey, 11% of iron workers felt that asbestos poses a threat on the job.

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Iron Workers’ Roles and Responsibilities

Iron workers have played a vital role in American and global infrastructure for over a century.

Construction companies started replacing stone and wood with steel as a structural building material in the late 1800s. Since then, iron workers have practiced their trade on projects large and small.

Iron work involves great skill in creating, installing, and removing metal fixtures in buildings and other structures.

Some of these metalworks projects include the following specializations:

  • Architectural: Installing metal staircases, railings, doors, elevator shafts, security gates, and other non-structural pieces.
  • Fabrication: The welding, burning, and connecting of metal pieces for use in structures.
  • Reinforcement: Installing cables, rebars, and other reinforcements on existing structures for maintenance purposes or during renovations.
  • Structural: Installing beams and panels for building houses, businesses, factories, bridges, towers, tunnels, sports stadiums, and other structures.

Specialized iron workers also operate heavy machinery like cranes, forklifts, and derricks while working on a major project. These laborers are responsible for loading and unloading heavy materials, connecting beams, and erecting structures.

Workers with versatile skills may also have spent time as sheet metal workers creating products for industries like:

  • Automotive
  • Aviation
  • Shipbuilding

Iron workers perform their job in a variety of workplaces. Some work is completed in factories and fabrication shops while other work happens directly at the project site.

Iron Workers and Mesothelioma

When asbestos is handled or agitated, the brittle fibers enter the air. Workers in the area are susceptible to inhaling or ingesting those fibers.

Once inside the body, the fibers attach to the lining of the lung or abdomen and put the worker at risk of developing mesothelioma later in life.

Asbestos is also proven to causes other diseases and conditions, including the following:

Mesothelioma and other asbestos-caused cancers have long latency periods. In many cases, patients do not develop the disease for 20 years after exposure. Sometimes the cancer takes up to 50 years to develop.

If you were exposed to asbestos, it is crucial to visit your doctor for regular health screenings. By detecting asbestos-related cancer early, more treatment options may be available.

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Compensation for Iron Workers

Iron workers who were wrongfully exposed to asbestos on the job may be eligible to receive compensation. Billions of dollars are also available through trust funds established by big companies.

Family members who lost loved ones to mesothelioma may be entitled to damages through a wrongful death lawsuit.

A specialized mesothelioma lawyer can help you file a lawsuit against your former employer or manufacturers of asbestos-containing products.

The window of time available to file a claim varies from state to state. Some states require victims to file claims within one year of diagnosis while other states allow up to 6 years.

If you developed mesothelioma, our Justice Support Team may be able to help you. Get a free case review today.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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  1. Center for Construction Research and Training, “Analysis of Work-Related Safety & Health Hazards of Unrepresented Workers in the Iron Working Industry.” Retrieved from Accessed on May 3, 2018.

  2. Health and Safety Executive, “Asbestos-related diseases.” Retrieved from Accessed on May 3, 2018.

  3. International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers, “Training.” Retrieved from Accessed on May 3, 2018.

  4. New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, “Asbestos Containing Materials.” Retrieved from Accessed on May 3, 2018.

  5. New Solutions, “The labor movement’s role in gaining federal safety and health standards to protect America’s workers.” Retrieved from Accessed on May 3, 2018.

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