Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 12 (SMW 12) has been around for many decades in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The union has played a major role in the building of Pittsburgh and many other areas throughout Western Pennsylvania. Through decades of service and building, SMW 12 members have been faced with the possibility of occupational asbestos exposure while working in powerhouses, schools, hospitals, government buildings, etc. There are over 1,100 active members of SMW 12, who serve 23 Pennsylvania counties. Many of these members are second and third generation sheet metal workers, who can remember the stories of prior generations — the stories of how it would “snow asbestos” from above while on the job. Today, we strive to eliminate this type of occupational exposure.
As part of our prevention program at the Meso Foundation, Diane Blackburn-Zambetti, Director of Policy and Prevention Education, works with the general public, trade unions, and any other interested company or entity, to educate about asbestos and its dangers in order to prevent exposure and asbestos-related disease development. SMW 12 Training Coordinator Keith Schettler and Assistant Training Coordinator Len Liebert have embraced the need for asbestos awareness training. Staff at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) 30-hour training program, including Blair McDermott, Chuck Greer, Todd Deitrick, and Jeff Eyer, has expressed similar sentiment.
Diane had the chance to speak with Keith Schettler about the benefits of asbestos education in the trades industry. Keith has been a sheet metal worker for 35 years, following in the footsteps of his father and uncles along with his brothers and cousins, and passing the trade on to his son. Keith recalls a push for asbestos education in the 90s, but notes that it has since fallen by the wayside, which is not acceptable. “I have been exposed to asbestos since the day I was born and it frightens me that we do so little to educate people on the harm of it,” Keith stated.
This is the issue that the Meso Foundation is working to remedy. Diane recently visited SMW 12 to speak and provide 105 apprentices with our asbestos education presentation. The response was positive; the apprentices found it very educational and one common sentiment from the journeypersons was that they wish they had this type of education sooner.
It is important to note that even if workers were previously exposed to asbestos, it is not too late to be educated on the dangers of exposure and the potential for disease development. When asked if SMW 12 members still encounter asbestos on the job, Keith said yes. Asbestos is still present in floor tiles, air shafts, plaster, support beams, elevator shafts, piping in HVAC systems, spray-on fireproofing on beams, and so on. With the asbestos education provided by Diane, SMW 12 members are now better equipped with the knowledge of how to recognize asbestos, prevent exposure, and understand potential asbestos-related diseases.
The Meso Foundation is grateful to have had the chance to educate members of SMW 12 and for the support from the training staff, as we continue to provide asbestos education services. To learn more about our program and request a presentation at your trade union or company, visit curemeso.org/asbestos.