Toolmakers use various processes to form metal into tools that are used in the production of almost every other product manufactured. They also make the jigs and clamps that hold metal while it is being processed. Die makers create devices that shape hot metal in stamping and forging operations. In many ways tool and die makers are like more highly skilled and specialized machinists. Whereas a machinist makes a single part in the production process, the tool and die makers may make the entire machine and any adjustments necessary to make the machine operate more effectively.
Like other professions that worked with hot metals, tool and die makers traditionally worked in areas where the risk of fire and heat exposure was a significant problem. To protect both the workers and the building from these risks, a lot of employers relied on asbestos. Asbestos insulation around boilers and forges helped control the amount of heat that escaped into the work area, making the forge more efficient and making the work environment more tolerable. Asbestos insulation on work areas prevented slag or sparks from igniting fires, and asbestos gloves and work clothes protected the workers themselves from being burned. As a result, tool and die makers, especially up through the 1970s when regulations started going into place, were at risk to be exposed to large amounts of asbestos carrying out their job related duties.
Asbestos is the only mineral that can be woven into cloth. The fibers are lightweight and flexible. Additionally, asbestos is fireproof, chemically inert, and provides insulation against electricity and heat. Unfortunately, the many good qualities of asbestos are offset by its bad qualities. The Greeks noticed that slaves who worked with asbestos often had trouble breathing and died younger than other slaves.
Studies done in the United States and England confirmed this knowledge during the same time period that asbestos production was getting its start in the United States. By 1924, doctors had diagnosed asbestosis, and by the 1930s doctors were writing medical articles about the link between asbestos and cancer.
All the studies and warnings were ignored, however, and asbestos use continued to increase until the early 1970s. People who worked with asbestos were unaware of the dangers and the government agencies and many private employers that were aware of the problems didn’t tell the public. They also made no effort to minimize workers’ exposure to asbestos.