When most people hear the term “blacksmith”, they automatically envision a blackened old westerner heating iron over a blazing fire. Then they see the smith hammer away on a fireproof table, protected only by an apron, gloves and maybe a face shield. That’s exactly what blacksmiths of old did. And their health suffered terribly because of asbestos surrounding their environment.
Professional blacksmiths have operated for hundreds of years. Since the dawn of the Bronze Age, skilled workers made a career out of metal work. Technology advanced over time, and many successful metal crafters or blacksmiths earned handsome rewards by developing new techniques and new tools. One big blacksmithing career breakthrough was discovering an amazing material that didn’t conduct heat and refused to catch fire.
That wonder product making blacksmith careers easier and temporarily safer was asbestos. Today, commercial blacksmithing careers cater towards small artisan shops rather than mass-production facilities. Current blacksmiths still use a combination of high heat and controlled cooling to make spectacular steel and iron works. But they do it on a far safer level now that they know the hazards from asbestos exposure.
Blacksmith Job Roles
Although today’s blacksmiths are mostly small artisans, there were many people employed as blacksmiths in foundries during the twentieth century. Thousands of foundry workers became exposed to asbestos from the 1950s until the 1980s when the deadly effects of asbestos fiber exposure became widely known. Since then, most blacksmith shops eliminated asbestos materials.
Blacksmiths still support their careers by making a wide product range. The days of tool production through hand-wrought iron smelting are mostly over, but modern blacksmiths get mighty creative using their hands and fire.
These are some of the crafts career blacksmiths still make:
- Wrought iron furniture
- Iron railings, gates and hinges
- Decorative artwork for private and public displays
- Iron candle holders
- Custom knives and hatchets
- Sundials and garden accessories
- Even horseshoes are still hand forged
Asbestos Applications Blacksmith Shops
Blacksmith shops are highly heated, hazardous places. Metal is turned into a molten state over an open fire. Temperatures often exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and that makes a dangerous scene. Blacksmiths work with tongs and a hammer. The forge and anvil are their friends. But so are insulation and fire protection. That’s why asbestos became a popular blacksmith shop material for preventing burns and fires.
Most blacksmith workshops were semi-enclosed, wood frame structures. Smoke and heat needed to escape but water and wind had to be controlled. Asbestos was used as a protector against all threats to metal production.
These are the asbestos materials metal workers once used in blacksmith shops:
- Back wall insulation panels behind forges
- Hot lids for forge boxes
- Workbench surfaces
- Protective aprons
- Fireproof and heatproof gloves
- Face shields and masks
- Floor tiles and protective sheeting
Asbestos Exposure Risks in Blacksmithing
Asbestos surrounded early blacksmiths. What was once thought the perfect blacksmithing protective material was part of their everyday life. Microscopic airborne asbestos fibers filled blacksmith shops which these tradespersons continually breathed in. Asbestos exposure came from their walls, floors, work surfaces, clothing and face protection.
The same dangerous asbestos fibers exposed other people around the blacksmith trade. Workers went home with asbestos contamination on their clothing, exposing family and friends to fibers. People who came and went from blacksmith shops also breathed in asbestos. That could be customers, suppliers or curious plain folk.
Blacksmiths and Asbestos Health Hazards
Blacksmiths experienced the same health hazards as anyone working in an asbestos-exposed environment. Tiny and invisible fibers detached from asbestos material took to the air and entered blacksmiths’ respiratory and digestive systems. Once inside the human body, asbestos fibers can’t be passed or expelled.
Fibers lodged within in human lungs then attach to the sensitive cavity lining called the pleura. They can sit dormant for years, even decades, before a tumor grows and presents as the deadly disease mesothelioma. Once diagnosed in a later stage, mesothelioma is irreversible and ultimately fatal.
Compensation for Blacksmiths Exposed to Asbestos
Blacksmiths who developed mesothelioma from workplace asbestos exposure may be eligible for legal action and financial compensation. It’s necessary to support that mesothelioma was a direct result of workplace products, but there’s no question this deadly disease is related to asbestos exposure.
Financial compensation for mesothelioma victims can be monetary awards to cover personal injury, disability and medical expenses. Compensation can also include punitive damages against the asbestos product manufacturer. Families of mesothelioma sufferers can apply on their relatives’ behalf. Wrongful death lawsuits are an additional option.