What Are the Hazards of Metal Casting?
November 3, 2021
Metal casting is one of the backbones of manufacturing in the U.S., providing jobs to nearly 490,000 workers. The parts produced by workers in metal casting foundries are found in all sorts of products, including automobiles, trains, trucks, medical devices, appliances, and toys. About 90 percent of the world’s durable goods include component parts that were made using metal castings.
However, workers in metal casting foundries face many hazards on the job. They are often unfairly blamed for causing accidents due to their own carelessness. However, studies have shown that defective tools, machinery and equipment, and processes cause many metal casting accidents.
What Is Metal Casting?
Metal casting is a multi-step process that involves pouring molten metal into a die or mold to create the desired shape. After pouring the molten metal, the process typically includes steps for sand handling, cooling, shakeout, cleaning, and finishing.
There are more than 1,700 metal casting facilities in the U.S. today. Many of these facilities are small businesses employing less than 100 people. The metal casting industry continues to grow in part because energy efficiency and emissions requirements in the auto industry call for new types of lightweight castings. Ensuring safety in metal casting is important.
Common Hazards of Metal Casting
There are many different types of jobs in any given foundry, including core makers, molder, electricians, and other workers involved in pouring, cleaning, and finishing the metal casting. Many hazards in metal casting are specific to the job of the worker.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the hazards of metal casting jobs may include but are not limited to the following:
- Chemicals and solvents: Alkalis, detergents, and other substances used in metal casting can cause serious burns or dermatitis if they are exposed to the skin.
- Fumes: Molten metal can produce toxic fumes with very tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs. Workers can develop molten metal fever if these fumes contain aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, silver, zinc, or other metals. Fumes from Styrofoam or polyurethane can also produce carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and other toxic gases.
- Dust particles: Sand handling and shakeout produce dangerous dusty conditions in the workplace. Small, jagged particles of asbestos, cotton, and silica are caught in the lungs and cannot be removed, causing scarring. This condition makes it difficult to breathe, eventually damaging the heart.
- Electrical hazards: Foundries often use a number of electrical devices that require proper fuses and wiring, which may deteriorate over time. Electrocution is also a risk when using an electric kiln.
- Fire: Metal casting may involve using torches, gases, hot metals, and kilns, creating the risk of explosion or fire.
- Heat: The intense heat required to melt metal may unexpectedly start or accelerate other chemical reactions and cause an accident. Some workers become used to working in intense heat, however, there are long-term health risks associated with working in high-temperature environments, including increased anxiety and loss of concentration.
- Hot surfaces: Molten metal and hot surfaces create hazards for workers who may be burned accidently. In addition to direct burn hazards, the overall heat in the working environment is known to increase the frequency of accidents in general.
- Noise: Hazardous levels of noise exceeding 105 decibels may be produced in foundries with tumbling furnaces or modeling machines or in operations involving sand shakeout or grinding.
- Radiation: Ultraviolet and infrared light that is often present in foundries can damage the eyes.
- Repetitive movements: Any job that requires repetitive movements can cause nerve damage and result in carpal tunnel syndrome or other painful conditions.
- Vibration: Workers in certain types of foundries may be exposed to whole-body vibrations from shakeout operations as well as pneumatic tools, conveyor belts, and forklifts. Hand-held grinders and chippers expose workers to hand or arm vibration hazards.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2019, the incidence rate of nonfatal injuries was 6.4 for every 100 foundry workers who worked full-time. The incidence rate in steel foundries was 9.7 percent, which was the highest for metal casting foundries. While many of these injuries result from accidents, long-term exposure to hazards can result in debilitating, chronic conditions as well.
What Types of Injuries and Health Problems Are Common in Metal Casting Foundries?
The types of injuries common in metal casting foundries include the following:
- Breathing problems
- Crush injuries
- Dermatitis and other skin problems
- Electric shock
- Eye injuries
- Strains and back injuries
Respiratory problems, including silicosis and lung cancer, are among the most common types of health problems found in metal casting foundries. Eye injuries are also common because of the abrasive processes used for cleaning and finishing castings. Injuries from strain or overexertion also happen more frequently in metal casting jobs compared to other areas of manufacturing.
What Causes Metal Casting Accidents?
While progress has been made regarding the safety of foundry workers, the basic process of casting metal has remained the same for more than a thousand years. It is important but dangerous work, and the risk of accident is high.
Workers are often blamed for metal casting accidents. However, research has shown that accidents are often the result of the safety of the work environment as well as defective tools or equipment. Some of these factors include but are not limited to the following:
- Physical work environment. Air quality, temperature, and humidity have a real and direct impact on worker fatigue and stress.
- Work process layout. Accidents are more likely to happen if workers are required to perform tasks in spaces that are unnecessarily dangerous, such as carrying heavy loads of product across areas with forklift traffic.
- Lack of adequate safety training. Foundries are required by law to conduct safety inspections and training. However, if safety instructions are impractical, workers may come up with non-standard, unsafe practices in order to get their jobs done or meet quotas.
- Defective equipment or tools. Equipment lacking adequate safety features often cause metal casting accidents.
Assuming that workers are always to blame for accidents allows those who are responsible to avoid liability. That is one reason why it is so important for injured workers to reach out to a qualified lawyer who has experience uncovering the true cause of work-related accidents.
What Should Workers Do if They Are Injured in a Metal Casting Accident?
Workers injured in a metal casting accident should seek medical attention immediately. They must also give formal notice to their employers about their accident and file paperwork in order to obtain Workers’ Compensation. This can be difficult, especially if their injuries are devastating. Injured employees can make the process easier by contacting a lawyer to help them with the paperwork and provide legal advice regarding their rights. In addition to Workers’ Compensation, other sources of financial recovery may be available if the accident was caused by defective tools or machinery, including equipment manufacturers and distributors.
Galfand Berger LLP has a long tradition of advocating for injured workers in all types of industries. We have obtained a number of multi-million-dollar settlements on behalf of our clients and their families, including the following:
- $5.1 million-dollar settlement for death and injuries caused by defective casting machinery. Four workers were pouring molten metal into a die attached to a vertical centrifugal casting machine. The die ruptured, causing molten metal to splash on the workers, setting their clothes on fire. One worker died, and the others suffered second-degree and third-degree burns. We were able to demonstrate that the casting machine was defectively designed because it lacked a proper pour guard and other necessary safety features.
All too often, workers are blamed for accidents. Employers are responsible for ensuring a safe working environment. Likewise, manufacturers are responsible for providing equipment that includes safety features that can prevent accidents and injuries. A qualified lawyer can help a worker understand their rights and true cause of the accident that caused them devasting harm.
Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Have Helped Injured Workers Since 1947
If you have been seriously harmed in any type of work-related accident, make sure your rights are protected and that you explore all of your legal options. Our Philadelphia products liability lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP can determine if a third party is responsible for your work injury. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or complete our online form to schedule a free, confidential consultation. We proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg, from our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania.