Worker Health

Construction Work Related Illnesses and How to Prevent Them

Being in good health is a concern for people in any industry, but labor-intense industries provide more health risks than others due to their harsh conditions and exposure to dangerous substances.  Construction is among these risky industries that provide a high risk for many illnesses.  Despite efforts to decrease the number of injuries and illnesses, the number of fatalities among construction workers is continuing to increase.  According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatal injuries in the construction industry totaled 885 in 2014, which is up 5%, and higher than it has been in six years.  It is apparent that any steps to protect construction workers from these illnesses have not been effective.  Therefore, construction workers need to educate themselves on the dangers of their jobs and take measures to protect themselves and their coworkers.

 

Here are the most common construction related illnesses:

 

Asbestos related illnesses

 

Asbestos is a material previously used in construction for insulation.  It was later discovered that this material is extremely dangerous and even fatal when it becomes airborne and is inhaled.  When this was discovered, the use of asbestos in the construction of new buildings was prohibited.  However, many buildings that are built before 2000 still contain asbestos.  When these buildings are renovated, dangerous conditions arise for the workers.  Even today, Asbestos is the number one cause of disease among construction workers and can create debilitating illnesses.

 

Asbestosis is extremely common among construction workers.  This asbestos-induced illness scars the lungs making it hard to breathe and can be potentially fatal. Another asbestos-related illness is pleural thickening, in which the outside layer of the lung’s swell, making it hard to breathe.  Asbestos is also known to cause many types of cancer when it gets into the lungs.

 

Lung Cancer

Construction workers are at high risk for lung cancer not only due to their exposure to dangerous breathing conditions but also because they are more likely to smoke cigarettes. The combination of these factors put construction workers at high risk for both Mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer, both of which are fatal, according to Health and Safety Executive.

 

Silicosis

Silicosis is a lung disease that may take years to develop but can be fatal.  It makes it extremely hard to breathe accompanied by an ongoing cough, while also increasing your susceptibility to lung disease or cancer.  It is caused by exposure to silica, which is found in many construction materials such as granite, marble, and bricks, and becomes dangerous when these materials are separated by tools and equipment.   When this silica becomes airborne, it can affect your lungs and cause illness. Silica dust is the second biggest risk factor after asbestos and, according to the HSE, is the primary cause of death of over 500 construction workers each year.

 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

This is caused by exposure to unfavorable breathing conditions that causes the lungs to be inflamed.  COPD is highly debilitating as it causes extreme discomfort, trouble breathing, and is not treatable.  According to HSE, it is the killer of 4000 yearly due to previous working conditions.

 

Occupational Asthma

This is a situation in which overexposure to a particular substance eventually causes you to get asthma attacks whenever you are exposed to it in the future.  Not everybody who is exposed to these substances will develop occupational asthma, but if they should, it makes their job extremely difficult as they are often exposed to these substances that can trigger attacks.

 

How to avoid this?

Despite efforts to maintain safe environments in the workplace, the health and safety of construction workers are everybody’s responsibility. and the burden to keep oneself safe ultimately falls on the individual.  Therefore, it is necessary that every construction worker knows the risks of his or her job and is informed on how to proceed safely.

 

The HSE lays out the following “Assess, Control, and Review” plan when tackling potentially dangerous conditions in a construction job:

 

ASSESS the dangers of the job before you begin so you know how to handle whatever dangers you are dealing with properly.  Once the dangers are identified, inform every worker of the potential risk factors and how they should proceed.

CONTROL the hazards before they occur and do your best to control any remaining hazards during a job.

REVIEW by making sure that all workers are properly supervised and that any deviations from the plan are addressed accordingly.

 

References:

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

Health & Safety Executive – Asbestos

Health & Safety Executive – Lung diseases

Health & Safety Executive – Construction & Cancer

Health & Safety Executive – Hazards & Construction

Health & Safety Executive – Managing Essentials

 

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