Drill Press Operators

Summary

Operating a drill press doesn’t sound like a particularly hazardous job. On the surface, one would think all a drill press operator does is creating holes in materials. That’s certainly part of a drill press operator’s occupation, but they performed various machinist duties. They also worked with many different materials and, until the late 1980s, a great deal of these materials was loaded with asbestos.

Drill Press Operator Roles and Occupations

Drill press operators are highly skilled machinists specializing in metal fabrication. They work alongside millwrights, machinists and other tradespersons in a shop environment. Drill press operators are responsible for building specific tools and machine parts. They do far more than drill holes.

All forms of metal craft involve drill presses. Drill press operators use bits and unique cutters to process bare metal into finished pieces. Some projects are assembly-line repetitious while others are one-time-only custom machine parts or attachments. Essentially, drill press operators are responsible for modifying metal stock by removing material while transforming it from a raw state into an end product.

Every major industry that works with metal employed drill presses. Some companies had antiquated machines that required manual manipulation. Other companies used advanced drill presses that evolved into complex computer and laser-guided equipment. Virtually every place in the metal fabrication industry employed drill press operators.

Some of the industries with drill press operators included:

  • General metal fabrication
  • Automotive production lines
  • Aviation engine and frame builders
  • Marine and shipyard facilities
  • Industrial power producers
  • Atomic energy plants
  • Railroad shops and repair yards

Drill Press Operators and Asbestos Exposure

MJN Brief

From the 1920s to the late 1980s, every facility where drill press operators worked used asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos was considered the perfect material for constructing machine parts and assembly components. It was inexpensive, light-weight and readily available. Asbestos was also fire-retardant, thermally inert and non-corrosive. This made asbestos ideally suited as an insulator in high-heat and flammable applications.

Drill press operators were constantly in contact with asbestos products. Their job involved disturbing asbestos materials by drilling holes, removing stock and modifying shapes. This continual disturbance produced a steady stream of tiny asbestos fibers being released into their work environment. This hazardous task left mounds of asbestos-laden metal filings and shavings. It also released huge quantities of raw asbestos particles, which drill press operators breathed in daily. They also ingested asbestos and absorbed it through skin contact.

Drill press operators worked surrounded by asbestos. It wasn’t just from fabricating parts that press operators were exposed to asbestos. Most machine shops are high-heat places where asbestos was used as an insulator and fire stop. Asbestos was in the flooring, walls, work surfaces and ceilings. It was also in paints on materials surfaces that drill press operators disturbed.

Asbestos fibers settled on drill press operators’ clothes, tools and personal equipment like lunch boxes and packs. These unsuspecting workers carried asbestos-contaminated materials home where families and friends were exposed to this deadly stuff. This health hazard lasted until the late 1980s when asbestos risks were publicly identified and asbestos controls were enacted.

This was a workplace tragedy. Certain asbestos material suppliers were fully aware of how dangerous long-term, unprotected asbestos exposure is to innocent workers like the average drill press operator. These unscrupulous characters put profits before public safety and concealed asbestos problems for years. And now, many drill press operators and other exposed workers suffer a life-threatening disease caused by asbestos.

Mesothelioma and Drill Press Operators

Mesothelioma is the leading disease caused entirely by asbestos exposure. When drill press operators breathed in, microscopic asbestos fibers became lodged in their lung linings, called the pleura. These tiny particles are impossible to expel. Over time, asbestos fibers caused cancerous tumors, a deadly lung disease called mesothelioma.

The risk of a drill press operator developing mesothelioma depends on the amount of asbestos they consumed, the duration of exposure and the type of asbestos they worked with.

There are two primary asbestos classifications most press operators worked with.

Chrysotile, or white asbestos, is the most common type used in machine production. Exposure is dangerous and it often results in lung irritant conditions like asbestosis.

Amphibole asbestos is far more deadly. Any press operator exposed to an amount of amphibole asbestos for any lengthy duration is at high risk of developing mesothelioma.

Compensation for Drill Press Operators with Mesothelioma

If you’re a drill press operator who developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure in your workplace, you might be eligible for compensation. Legal awards are available for medical expenses, lost wages and personal injury payment. Punitive damages have also been awarded against negligent asbestos product manufacturers and suppliers. Families may also file suits on behalf of relatives or lay wrongful death claims.