Today’s Lincoln Electric is a company that manufactures products to supply the welding industry, including tools, safety equipment, gear, accessories, retail equipment, and also services and training. In the past the company also offered welding supplies and tools, but it also made many of its products with asbestos, a harmful natural mineral that can cause mesothelioma and other serious respiratory illnesses.
Based in Euclid, Ohio, Lincoln Electric has managed to keep operating and has been successful in spite of being named in thousands of lawsuits over asbestos exposure and resulting illnesses. The company was able to get many of them dismissed, and avoided the need to enter bankruptcy protection or to create an asbestos trust for compensation of victims.
About Lincoln Electric
Lincoln electric is a Fortune 1000 company headquartered in Euclid, Ohio, and supporting the welding industry. The company manufactures and sells hundreds of products, including welders, arc welders, torches, wire and arc feeders, electrodes, fume control solutions, stick welders, welding guns, plasma cutters, accessories, and many more. Industries served by the company include automotive, nuclear energy, offshore drilling, power generation, pipelines, liquid natural gas, wind energy, thermal energy, and shipbuilding, just to name a few. Lincoln Electric has sales offices around the world, although more than half of sales are from North American customers.
Lincoln Electric was founded in 1895 by John Lincoln, who was already successful in designing electric motors. He invested in his new company with just $200 and began selling his motors. Lincoln’s brother joined the company soon after and they began to expand their product offerings to include welding sets and battery chargers for the brand new automobiles coming on the market at the time. The company was the first to offer a portable welding machine with variable voltage and that could be operated by one person. It was an important innovation in welding and industrial manufacturing.
Early on in the company’s history, Lincoln Electric initiated unique management and employee policies. These included piecework pay and an Employee Advisory Board, on which an employee from every department sits and which is still in operation today. Employees at Lincoln Electric were offered group life insurance in 1915, a very unusual practice at the time. In the 1950s the company instituted a policy of never laying off a worker who had been with the company for at least two years. These and other policies have led to Lincoln Electric being studied as a business model by Harvard Business School more than any other company in history.
Over the years, Lincoln Electric has focused mostly on welding equipment, gear, and supplies. During the Second World War the company was instrumental in providing the military with needed supplies and provided more welding equipment than any other company at the time. The company was also heavily contracted for repairs on navy ships during the war. Since then Lincoln Electric has only grown and become more successful, with few hiccups along the way. These include lawsuits that have arisen over the use of asbestos.
Asbestos Use in Welding Products
All Lincoln Electric welding products have been asbestos-free since 1981, but for many decades their welding rods were manufactured with as much as 15 percent asbestos. Welding rods, also known as welding electrodes, act like the glue that welders use to join two metal components together. Rods are surrounded by a material called flux that prevents oxidation of the metal. For many years this material contained asbestos. It was used to add strength to the bond joining two materials and to protect workers from fire because of its ability to resist heat and fire.
Asbestos Exposure from Lincoln Electric Welding Rods
Many decades of producing welding rods with up to 15 percent asbestos potentially exposed thousands of workers to harmful asbestos fibers. One important reason asbestos was used was to protect workers from heat and fire, but the fibers in these rods could have come loose, entered the air, and been inhaled by workers and others in the area. Asbestos fibers are harmful because they get stuck inside the body and cause damage over years and decades. Some people exposed to it will eventually get devastating diagnoses of lung cancer, mesothelioma, or asbestosis.
Lincoln Electric workers who made the rods were at risk of harmful asbestos exposure on the job, but so too were people in other industries. This is especially true for any welder in any industry who used these welding rods. Major industries that Lincoln Electric served during the years it used asbestos were shipping and shipyards, the U.S. Navy, automotive manufacturing and repair, and construction. There were potentially workers in many other industries that used these welding rods and put themselves and others around them at risk of being exposed to asbestos fibers.
Lawsuits over Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Decades of use of asbestos in welding rods had a serious and negative impact on many workers. Those who did get sick—and this included a lot of U.S. Navy veterans because asbestos was so heavily used on ships in addition to welding rods—began filing lawsuits against companies like Lincoln Electric. These workers claimed that companies that provided products with asbestos did not warn them of the risks they were taking by using them.
One case brought against Lincoln Electric came from two former employees. They filed a lawsuit in 2003 and were awarded compensation by the jury in the case because one had developed mesothelioma and the other lung cancer. The jury decided Lincoln Electric was responsible and ordered that it pay the men over $6 million. Cases like these cost the company a lot of money, but it fought hard against others and had thousands of them dismissed. Hundreds were found in favor of Lincoln Electric, and just a handful ended up in favor of the plaintiffs. In this way the company was able to survive the asbestos controversy and avoid going into bankruptcy. Now the number of cases against the company has decreased significantly.
Because Lincoln Electric never filed for bankruptcy, it also never formed an asbestos trust. Many other companies created these trusts to ensure victims would be compensated, but claimants against Lincoln have to actually file a lawsuit and fight for that compensation. If you believe the company is liable in your case of asbestos illness, rely on a lawyer with expertise in asbestos and mesothelioma to help you through the process.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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