Although a carpenter’s main role is working with wood frame and finish products, they’ve always been required to handle practically every product in building construction. If they didn’t work directly with a particular material, they certainly worked adjacent to others installing components in industrial, commercial and residential construction projects. Many of these construction materials contained asbestos.

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Carpenter Roles and Careers

Carpenters are trade qualified or ticketed professionals specializing in construction areas where wood is used. Effective carpenters have years of experience. Typically, carpenters start as construction laborers and progress through apprentice stages before becoming journeymen.

Carpentry is a high skill often employed in these roles and careers:

  • Framers who cut and install wood beams, joists, studs, rafters and sheathing
  • Finishers who make and install doors, windows, moldings and trim pieces
  • Formers who build concrete forms for foundations
  • Floorlayers who install hardwood floors and other flooring materials
  • Specialty carpenters who build cabinets and manufacture fine finishings
  • Heavy construction carpenters who build bridges and towers
  • General carpenters who include other tasks like insulating and roofing

Carpenter careers often cross different construction boundaries. During a carpenter’s career, they may work on thousands of projects ranging from quick and simple jobs to long and complex ones.

There are 3 primary industry classifications employing carpenters:

  1. Industrial Construction: Factories and other manufacturing plants
  2. Commercial Construction: Schools and office buildings
  3. Residential Construction: Houses and multi-family projects

Wood frames and finishes were standard materials in all construction classifications for several hundred years. Steel studs and concrete components gradually replaced wood in industrial and commercial sites, but wood is still the backbone of homebuilding.

During the 20th century evolution, carpenters changed roles to handle many products other than wood. Many of these materials contained asbestos.

Carpenters and Asbestos Exposure

Carpenters are usually the first into a construction project and the last out. Because carpenters are versatile constructors, they’re at a site from the foundation through to the finish. They’re exposed to every construction stage and the hundreds of materials used in assembling a building.

Cutting, sawing and sanding are continuous processes that create dusty environments. Carpenters constantly inhale and ingest large dust quantities.

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Asbestos became a common construction material in the 1920s. It remained prevalent until the 1980s when the dangers of asbestos exposure became well-known. It wasn’t because of a sudden discovery breakthrough that asbestos hazards changed how the construction industry used asbestos-containing products. Many asbestos product suppliers were well aware of the dangers but chose to hide it.


Asbestos Applications in Carpentry

Carpenters were in the highest asbestos exposure risk group of all construction tradespeople. It’s because of continual and prolonged exposure to large quantities of asbestos dust. Materials containing asbestos were disturbed during installation through cutting, sanding and sawing. This released microscopic asbestos fibers into the air surrounding a carpenter’s workspace.

These are some of the asbestos-containing materials carpenters were exposed to:

  • Adhesives, glues and bonding agents
  • Cement powder and masonry dust
  • Cabinet liners and particle board components
  • Insulation used in walls, ceilings and floors
  • Fireproof lining in brick fireplaces
  • Flooring underlayment
  • Roofing shingles and felts
  • Plumbing pipewraps
  • Wallboard products including drywall, joint compound and tape

New construction carpenters weren’t the only woodworkers exposed to asbestos particles. Many carpenters were employed in renovation and demolition projects where asbestos materials were ripped out and destroyed. This was just as hazardous as installing new asbestos products.

Many carpenters were oblivious to asbestos risk. Those who suspected dangers often only wore dust masks that are ineffective asbestos dust protectors. Proper respirators are the only defense.

Asbestos contamination didn’t stop at the job site. Many carpenters came home covered in asbestos dust. This polluted their homes and put families at risk of asbestos exposure, including their wives doing laundry.

Asbestos Health Risks for Carpenters

Every carpenter exposed to asbestos dust is at serious risk of developing mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer only caused by inhaling tiny airborne asbestos fibers that lodge in the lung lining (pleura). Embedded fibers can remain dormant for decades before manifesting as a deadly tumor.

Asbestos also enters the body by ingesting it into the digestive system or absorbing it through the skin. Risk degree depends on the type of asbestos a worker is exposed to, the amount of dust and the duration of exposure.

Carpenters normally had exposure to two asbestos types. Chrysotile, or white asbestos, was the most common. It’s dangerous but less risky than amphibole asbestos, which is highly hazardous.

Compensation for Carpenters Exposed to Asbestos

Carpenters who developed mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases resulting from workplace asbestos exposure may be entitled to financial compensation. That includes personal injury, medical expenses and lost income or punitive damages against negligent asbestos product suppliers. Families have also successfully sued companies on behalf of victimized relatives including wrongful death suits.

For more information on asbestos exposure compensation for carpenters, 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: May 22, 2019

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