Asbestos/Occupational Disease Research

SMOHIT/CPWR Research on Occupational Disease Among Sheet Metal Workers

Sheet metal work includes tasks entailing fabrication or installation of metal products. Respiratory hazards identified with sheet metal work include exposure to asbestos, welding fumes, and man-made vitreous fibers, primarily fiberglass. The Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) was established in 1987 to determine the extent of asbestos-related disease and other occupational diseases among sheet metal workers, and to provide medical examinations for those sheet metal workers with substantial occupational exposures. Other targeted research studies have also been conducted through the screening program.

Key findings from the SMOHIT-sponsored surveillance program for the United States are:

  • 32% of the first 9,000 participants, all of whom had worked at least 20 years in construction sheet metal work, were found to have either pleural or parenchymal abnormalities consistent with pneumoconiosis. The parenchymal changes were primarily in major category 1 of the classification; fewer than 1% of the films were classified as 2/1 or higher, and 2.4% were classified as 1/2.
  • Sheet metal workers with estimated high exposures to man-made vitreous fibers, primarily fiberglass, have more chronic bronchitis and obstructive lung disease than do sheet metal workers without that exposure.
  • The task of hanging duct was associated with shoulder pain and shoulder injuries among both active and disabled sheet metal workers. Hand tool use and time spent in a sheet metal shop, which includes hand-intensive work, was associated with symptomatic hand cumulative trauma disorder.

Current investigations in the SMOHIT sponsored surveillance program include:

  • Deaths among surveillance program participants
  • Work factors associated with obstructive lung disease in sheet metal workers
  • Impact of asbestos-related pleural disease on lung function in sheet metal workers

It is estimated that tens of millions of dollars will be recovered from asbestos companies over the next five years to pay for the damage caused by asbestos—including loss of income, medical expenses, damaged health, and shortened life expectancy.