Millwrights are responsible for installing, repairing, replacing, and dismantling machinery and heavy equipment. The majority of millwrights do their work in the manufacturing and construction fields. Both of these work environments have been the source of much asbestos exposure. For example, millwrights who install and maintain turbines in power plants may be exposed to the turbine’s insulation, which in the past often contained asbestos.
Millwrights working in construction face similar dangers since historically, asbestos was most often used in construction, and nearly 70% of asbestos produced now is used in that industry. From 1990 to 1999, the most frequently listed industry recorded on U.S. death certificates of asbestosis victims age 15 and older was the construction industry, with 24% of death certificates listing construction; likewise, a large number of malignant mesothelioma victims work or worked in construction industry. A 1995 study in the Britain similarly found construction workers, to be at greatest risk of contracting mesothelioma.
When placing machines requires building a new foundation, millwrights sometimes prepare the foundation themselves, while others only supervise the foundation’s construction. In either case, they work around cement products, which in the past were often reinforced with asbestos. When assembling machinery, millwrights work with bearings, gears, wheels, motors and the like, which again in the past may have been made with asbestos. Because millwrights work with tools such as cutting torches, welding machines, lathes and grinding machines, they may be exposed to asbestos dust if those tools do not have filtration systems or if the millwright has not been provided with appropriate protective equipment.
Even if millwrights don’t work directly with asbestos-containing materials, they may still be at risk if the workplace has asbestos contamination. One clinical field survey examined 110 millwright and machinery erectors from the New York City area. Forty-nine of the workers had pleural abnormalities consistent with asbestos exposure. Eighteen showed signs of pleural thickening. Thirteen workers had chest x-rays indicating interstitial lung disease. After accounting for tobacco use, the study found a correlation between length of employment as a millwright and pleural abnormalities, suggesting that even millwrights who are subject to indirect exposure to airborne asbestos dust are at risk for developing asbestos-related diseases or an asbestos cancer.
Diseases associated with asbestos exposure generally do not appear for 15 or more years after initial exposure, so even people who haven’t worked as a millwright in many years may still be at risk for developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease.