Top Hazardous Substances on Construction Sites
Working on a construction site can pose various risks for field workers. Construction sites often contain many hazardous substances such as dust, fumes, and gases that can be extremely harmful to worker’s health and wellbeing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 2,000 construction workers dealt with skin and lung illnesses in 2014 due to work-related conditions. In addition, another 100 of them reported being poisoned. Many workers don’t report their injuries and illnesses, revealing that the number of workers dealing with work-related injuries is actually much higher. Because of these many substances that workers are being exposed to, it is important to thoroughly identify and assess these substances and the working conditions of the job site before proceeding with a project.
The first step in decreasing the number of workers affected by hazardous conditions on the job site is to identify the most common hazardous substances.
One of the most common substances on construction sites is dust. Although dust may not seem like a hazardous substance, when inhaled repeatedly, it can cause various lung problems and diseases. Dust on construction sites usually falls into one of three groups: wood dust, silica dust, and lower toxicity dust. Wood dust comes from handling wood through sanding and cutting and can damage lungs. Lower toxicity dust comes from working with drywall, marble, and other substances and can also damage lungs and airways. Silica dust is the most dangerous and causes the fastest damage. Silica dust comes from working with materials such as sandstone and concrete. The dust is often very fine, causing it to lodge deeply in the lungs. The results of silica dust inhalation can range from asthma to silicosis to lung cancer.
Best Defense: The best defense against dust is to control it as you work. Try to vacuum the dust as you work and keep the materials wet. Never work in enclosed or small spaces, as it allows the space to fill up with dust much quicker.
Mold is commonly found on construction sites and can cause permanent damage when repeatedly exposed. Mold comes from working in damp conditions and can become a problem when moisture becomes trapped in buildings. Moldy conditions can lead to asthma, allergies, and various other respiratory problems. When exposed over a long period, these conditions can become permanent and potentially life threatening. People who already have respiratory conditions, allergies and asthma have an increased risk when working in these types of conditions.
Best Defense: Personal protective equipment is key! Consider using respirators, gloves, and goggles to prevent mold contact with lungs, skin, and eyes.
Another common substance found on construction sites is solvents. Solvents are commonly found in paints, adhesives, and cleaning fluids. These substances are not only dangerous to the lungs but the skin as well. Solvents affect nerves and brain function when they come into contact with skin and when they are inhaled. They can lead to irregular heartbeats, cancer, blindness, kidney/liver damage, and even death, making them one of the most hazardous substances on the job site.
Most common solvent exposure symptoms include:
- — Stomach pain
- — Headache
- — Dizziness
- — Nausea
- — Loss of coordination
- — Cracked/bleeding skin
- — Eyes, nose, and throat irritation
Best Defense: When you are working with solvents take extra caution! Keep solvents away from the skin and make sure to wash thoroughly after working with them. Work in spaces with fresh air and not in confined indoor spaces.
Man-made mineral fibers
Man-made mineral fibers are commonly found on the construction site and are usually made from glass, rockwool, ceramic and other substances. These substances are highly irritating when they come into contact with lungs, eyes, and skin and can cause permanent damage
Best Defense: Be smart! Use protective equipment when working with these substances to protect against the tiny fibers.
Although hazardous substances cannot be completely avoided, understanding the most common hazards and how to control and handle them is the first step in protecting field workers.