Whether you run a large construction firm, or own a smaller firm with 15 employees, you want to keep your crew safe. Your employees are your most valuable asset. Investing in occupational health and safety professionals (known traditionally as industrial hygienists) reduces risk to workers and organizations, increases productivity and ultimately enhances shareholder value.
Protecting the health of construction workers is even more of a challenge than protecting them from injury. Because construction workers – especially those employees of smaller firms – are seldom tied to a single task or workplace, they are at risk for exposure to:
- welding fumes and solvent vapors
- silica dust
- abrasive blasting
- musculoskeletal disorders, because of poor ergonomic design of tools and work processes
- heat stress
- nanomaterials, found as additives in many newer construction products to improve their performance. Exposures to nanomaterials can occur during construction activities such as mixing, spraying, grinding, cutting, or sanding these materials.
The Centers for Disease Control warns of long-term effects from exposure to these health hazards. Those effects can include occupational asthma, lung cancer, metal fume fever , mesothelioma, and lung disease. In a 2014 assessment of the overall health risk to workers after a career in construction, the risk for developing an occupationally related disease over a lifetime in a construction trade was two to six times greater than for non-construction workers.
Cost of Illness
Hiring a specialist in occupational health hazards, such as an industrial hygienist, provides you with a competitive edge by reducing the direct and indirect costs caused by workplace hazards—including equipment damage, lawsuits, medical expenses, and more. These experts work alongside your managers, your safety staff, your foremen to identify potential risks and develop plans that work best for your firm.
An OHS expert will:
- Assess occupational illness risk in your organization
- Help identify gaps in training and the use of personal protective equipment
- Assess exposure to harmful chemical, biological, physical and ergonomic hazards
- Help you determine if you need to be concerned about exposures to health risks, including noise and air contaminants such as welding fumes or solvent vapors
- Make recommendations to reduce exposure to those health risks
- Train your employees to address health risks on job sites
Focus Four for Health
An Initiative to Address Four Major Construction Health Hazards
The American Industrial Hygiene Association Construction Committee developed this guidance document to raise awareness about health hazards in the construction industry. AIHA represents the professionals and experts dedicated to identifying, evaluating, reducing, controlling and preventing occupational health hazards.
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- How to improve the Safety Climate at Your Construction Site (PDF)
Prevention Through Design for Hazards in Construction by AIHA member
Dr. Georgi Popov, QEP, CSP, ARM, SMS, CMC
Professor, University of Central Missouri
Safety Sciences Programs
- Avoiding the Pitfalls of OSHA Silica Standard Compliance
By Brigitte Polmar
AIHA occupational health and safety professionals created specific guidelines and resources to help employers and employees get back to work safely. The free guidelines for the construction industry are available to download below or at www.backtoworksafely.org. Additionally, COVID 19 resources on PPE and re-entry into the workplace hazards can be found at AIHA Media Outreach Center.