Up until the 1980s boilermakers and fitters working in power stations, on board ships, in refineries, manufacturing plants and heavy industry were heavily exposed to asbestos. Boilermakers and fitters handled, removed, worked with and worked nearby to others working with asbestos insulation that was used as lagging on steam pipes, boilers, turbines and other heated vessels.
Boilermakers and fitters worked alongside laggers as they erected boilers and pipe work. During repairs and shutdowns, boilermakers and fitters removed the asbestos lagging to get to the pipes and boilers. They often worked nearby when the lagging was replaced.
A boilermaker in the 1940s to the 1960s
Mr. W’s story is typical of a boilermaker. He worked for a number of employers in South Australia in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. In the 1940s and 1950s Mr. W worked on board ships carrying out pipe and boiler repairs, cutting patches out of boilers and replacing them and repairing, re-tubing and replacing stays on boilers. The boilers were lagged with asbestos insulation.
To carry out his work Mr. W cut away the asbestos lagging using a hacksaw, hammer and chisel.
The lagging crumbled, releasing dust into the air. Mr. W removed the lagging with his hands, throwing chunks onto the floor. When he finished, laggers came and put new lagging on the boilers.
Mr. W was nearby when the laggers mixed asbestos powder with water to make a slurry and applied the slurry to the boilers.
Mr. W also worked on the fabrication and erection of boilers at the Osborne B power plant in the 1950s. As he installed the boilers, laggers worked behind him installing asbestos on the boilers and pipe work. The laggers cut preformed pipe sections and put them on the pipes. Asbestos powder was mixed with water and put on the joins of the pipes and on the boilers.
Later, in the1960s, Mr. W worked at a refinery doing general maintenance work. He cut into steam pipes and installed new valves. This involved removing and replacing the asbestos lagging on the pipes.
As a result of his heavy and prolonged exposure to asbestos while working as a boilermaker, Mr. W developed asbestos related pleural disease, asbestosis and bronchiectasis. Turner Freeman brought a claim on his behalf against his former employers in the District Court of South Australia. The claim settled for a confidential sum prior to trial.