Blacksmiths

Asbestos exposure was a common risk among 20th-century blacksmiths. The very equipment that was designed to keep them safe was constructed using asbestos, a dangerous material known for its insulating properties. Its various applications in blacksmith workshops included heat-proof clothing and fire-resistant work surfaces.

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Blacksmiths and Asbestos Exposure

When most people think of a blacksmith, they imagine a blackened old westerner heating iron over a blazing fire.

They see the metalsmith hammering away over a fireproof table, protected only by an apron, gloves, and maybe a face shield. This describes the exact day-to-day professional life of the 20th-century blacksmith.

Professional blacksmiths have operated for hundreds of years. Since the dawn of the Bronze Age, skilled workers have made careers out of metalworking.

As technology advanced over time, many successful metal crafters and blacksmiths earned handsome rewards by developing new techniques and tools.

Asbestos in Blacksmithing

One major blacksmithing career breakthrough was the discovery of a seemingly amazing material that doesn’t conduct heat or catch fire — asbestos.

Asbestos made blacksmiths’ jobs easier and temporarily safer. It was widely used for heat protection in blacksmithing. Sadly, the health of blacksmiths suffered terribly due to their repeated exposure to asbestos.

Modern-day blacksmiths still use a combination of high heat and controlled cooling to make spectacular works of iron and steel. However, their job is far safer now that they know about the hazards of asbestos exposure.

How Blacksmiths Were Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos surrounded early blacksmiths. The hazardous material was once thought of as the perfect blacksmithing protective material and was used to add fire-resistant and heat-proof qualities to clothing and work surfaces.

Microscopic airborne asbestos fibers filled blacksmith shops and were inhaled continually by unsuspecting tradespersons.

Blacksmiths faced the threat of asbestos exposure from their:

  • Clothing
  • Face protection
  • Floors
  • Walls
  • Work surfaces

Blacksmith shops were designed to allow smoke and heat to escape while keeping out water and wind. As a result, most blacksmith workshops were semi-enclosed, wood-frame structures that trapped airborne asbestos.

Many other people were indirectly exposed to asbestos surrounding the blacksmithing trade.

Blacksmiths returned home each day with asbestos contamination on their clothing, exposing their family and friends to the dangerous fibers. Customers and suppliers who came and went from blacksmith shops also inhaled asbestos.

Asbestos Used in Blacksmithing

Blacksmith shops are hot and hazardous places where workers soften metal over an open fire. Temperatures often exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a particularly dangerous environment.

Blacksmiths shape the molten metal using hand tools, such as tongs, a hammer, and a chisel, working in very close proximity to high heat and flames.

Insulation and fire protection keep blacksmiths safe during their work. After its discovery, asbestos became a popular blacksmithing material for preventing burns and fires. Asbestos was used as a protector against all of the dangers involved in metal production.

Metalworkers once used a variety of asbestos products in blacksmith shops:

  • Back wall insulation panels behind forges
  • Hot lids for forge boxes
  • Workbench surfaces
  • Protective aprons
  • Fireproof and heat-proof gloves
  • Face shields and masks
  • Coveralls
  • Floor tiles and protective sheeting
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Blacksmith Careers

Most of today’s blacksmiths are small-scale artisans, but during the 20th century, many people were employed as blacksmiths in metal factories called foundries.

Thousands of foundry workers were exposed to asbestos between the 1950s and 1980s before the deadly effects of asbestos fiber exposure became widely known. Since then, most blacksmith shops have stopped using asbestos materials.

Blacksmiths still support their careers by making a wide range of products. The days of tool production through hands-on wrought iron smelting are mostly over, but modern blacksmiths still get creative using fire, their hands, and traditional tools.

Some of the crafts that career blacksmiths still make today include:

  • 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
  • Horseshoes

Blacksmith Health Risks

Blacksmiths experienced the same health hazards as anyone working in asbestos-exposed environments. Tiny, invisible asbestos fibers easily detached themselves from asbestos-containing products such as protective clothing.

In blacksmith workshops, these fibers took to the air and entered blacksmiths’ respiratory and digestive systems.

Once inside the human body, asbestos fibers cannot be passed or expelled, and they do not break down over time. Asbestos fibers become lodged within human lungs, burrowing deep into the sensitive lining of the lung cavity called the pleura.

Inhaled asbestos fibers can sit dormant for decades before they trigger the growth of mesothelioma — a rare and deadly form of cancer.

Help for Mesothelioma Victims

Manufacturers and suppliers of heat-resistant asbestos products knew about the risks of asbestos exposure and continued to put blacksmiths in danger. Today, there is no question that mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure.

Blacksmiths who developed mesothelioma due to workplace asbestos exposure may be able to receive legal compensation to cover personal injury, disability, and medical expenses. Compensation may also involve punitive damages against the asbestos product manufacturer.

Families of mesothelioma victims can apply for compensation and file wrongful death lawsuits.

For more information on taking action and seeking justice, contact our Justice Support Team today.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: October 23, 2019

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