As you may know, the American Industrial Hygienists Association (AIHA) has released a Focus Four for Construction Health guidance document that identifies four significant health hazards in construction, explains the hazards in detail, gives control recommendations, and more. We recently discussed the health guidance document with Barb Epstein, one of the creators of the AIHA construction health hazards document, and wrote about the four construction health hazards as well.
Having introduced people to the AIHA Focus Four document and those four construction health hazards in general, we wanted to follow-up by taking a deep-dive, looking at each of the four health hazards in more detail in separate articles. In this article, we'll take a closer look at air contaminants (the other health hazards are manual material handling, noise, and high temperatures, and we'll take closer looks at each in later articles).
Air contaminants can lead to a wide range of health concerns, ranging from relatively minor irritations to long-term illnesses that cause disability or death. These more serious health issues related to air contaminants in construction include things like asthma, fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, and more.
Because air contaminants often enter the body when the construction worker inhales them, the damage is often centered in the lungs or respiratory system. But not all of the damage occurs in the lungs. Air contaminants can eventually work through the body and cause damage in ways that might be unexpected, such as causing asphyxiation, damaging internal organs like the kidneys and systems like the nervous system, reproductive system, and circulatory system, and even causing things like fatigue or hearing disabilities.
Here's a sobering statistic: according to the AIHA, more than 15% of construction workers 50 years or older show evidence of lung disease. That's two-times higher than the rate of lung disease for people of the same age with white-collar jobs!
Air contaminants can include gases, vapors, fumes, dusts, and mists. OSHA has safety and exposure regulations covering these air contaminants at 1926.55 and you can find a lot of additional information in the CDC/NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.
Common examples include things like silica, asbestos, lead, carbon monoxide, toluene, and more.
Safety professionals and workers in construction should be mindful and guard against all exposures to harmful air contaminants. In particular, though, the AIHA Construction Health Hazards guidance document calls for being especially mindful of highly toxic substances, which they say:
The AIHA guidance document recommends the following for controlling these hazards:
In relation to these airborne health hazards in construction, safety professionals and construction workers in general should be familiar with the following safety hazards/controls and with the OSHA standards related to them:
We hope you found this article about air contaminants in construction, and the health hazards they pose, helpful. Be sure to check out the AIHA Focus Four construction health guidance and stay tuned for future articles on health hazards in construction and how to control them.
And don't forget to download the Construction Safety Training Guide below before you go!