Share This:


Machinists are among many workers who risk exposure to asbestos in the course of doing their jobs. Asbestos exposure can cause disabling or fatal diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer and mesothelioma, a form of asbestos cancer that affects the membranes covering the lungs and body organs.

In addition to its well-known use as a fire-retardant and heat insulator, asbestos was also used in the production of valves, boiler and pipe insulation, ductwork, and high-temperature gaskets. It was included as a reinforcing or binding agent in plastics and cement as well. Because it doesn’t conduct electricity, asbestos was used as an insulator in wiring and on some heavy machinery.

Machinists produce precision metal parts using machine tools such as lathes, milling machines, and machining centers. Some machinists produce large quantities of a single item; other precision machinists make small batches or customized, individual items. Machinists may also perform maintenance work, repairing or fabricating new parts for existing machinery. Modern machine shops in the U.S. are subject to occupational safety and health regulations and therefore are relatively clean, safe, and well-ventilated. Many modern machines used for cutting, smoothing, and drilling are partially or completely enclosed, reducing the amount of dust to which workers are exposed. In the past, however, machinists often worked in more dangerous conditions, with asbestos particles not being filtered but instead released into the air where it could be inhaled.

Navy Veterans and MesotheliomaIn 2005, a San Francisco jury awarded a retired U.S. Navy veteran who worked as a machinist and his wife over $1.9 million in a product liability and negligence trial. The mesothelioma lawyers working on behalf of the plaintiffs accused the defendants in the case of defective product design and negligence in failing to warn about the dangers of products they supplied to the Navy, which included asbestos-containing valves, pump packing, and thermal insulation. The retired machinist was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2004. He had served 20 years in the Navy, much of that working in equipment maintenance and repair on destroyers and aircraft carriers.

In June 2007, the family of a navy machinist who died from malignant mesothelioma in 2006 was awarded $5.2 million. In the case, a New Jersey engineering and construction firm was found to have acted with malice and ordered to pay punitive damages. The machinist had spent most of his career at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in the same area as workers using jackhammers to remove asbestos-packed insulation from boilers built by the New Jersey firm.

In another 2007 decision, the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that the widow of a mesothelioma victim could collect on the judgment awarded him in a personal injury lawsuit that was decided days before his death in 2005. Her husband had served as a machinist in the U.S. Navy in the 1960s and was exposed to pipe insulation and valve insulation pads that contained asbestos. The jury in 2005 found that the defendants, MetalClad Insulation Company and John Crane, Inc., were liable for defective design, negligence, and failure to warn.Mesothelioma Latency Period

Diseases associated with asbestos exposure generally do not appear for 20 or more years after initial exposure, so even people who haven’t worked as a machinist in many years may still be at risk for developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. Such workers are urged to discuss their possible asbestos exposure with their doctor and to receive regular check-ups for any signs of asbestos-related disease.