Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Look Inside Construction, Its Health and Safety Hazards

Construction workers make up about five to ten percent of the workforce in industrialized countries, according to the International Labour Organization. In less developed countries, construction work is handled by migrant workers. Many unskilled laborers work in construction for financial security, while others are trained and skilled in a variety of sectors, including roofers, elevator constructors, carpenters, bricklayers and tunnel workers. Since many construction workers are hired on a contract basis, many have other jobs or are hired for many projects sporadically at a given time. Projects have different phases of construction and most commonly use carpenters, electricians and plumbers followed by floor finishers and painters. There are currently 1.9 million construction contractors in the U.S, identified by the 1990 Census. Additional data revealed that only 28% had full-time employment and about 10 to 15 percent had any affiliation with trade organizations. Because of the minimal amount of participation, many contractors are not identified and informed of their responsibilities and rights under applicable health and safety or any other legislation or regulations.

Construction workers risk being exposed to safety hazards on the job. This exposure can vary from trade to trade on a daily basis. Occasionally, any exposure is short lived but likely to reoccur if safety precautions aren't met. In addition, contractors risk being exposed to those working above or around them. Each trade worker has a different set of health hazards he or she would have to be conscious about and sometimes licensed to handle. Electricians, for instance, risk being exposed to heavy metals in solder fumes, heavy loads and asbestos dust. The four categories of hazards for construction workers are chemical, physical, biological and social.

Unsafe scaffolding in Kathmandu, Nepal, 1974
                             Jane Seegal
unsafe building construction poses risk for workers
Chemical hazards are usually airborne and appear as gases, dust, fumes and vapors. Other chemical dangers include liquids, such as tar or glue. Asbestos, now banned in the U.S, still poses a health risk for previous building materials that are changed or re-structured. Insulation workers, roofers, welders and woodworkers have previously been exposed to asbestos related illness. Licensing and certification is now required of all contractors who work with or around asbestos containing material.

Physical hazards include cold and heat, radiation, barometric pressure and vibration. Construction work is a requirement and is often done in extreme temperature settings. When machines operate or testing is done with materials, noise becomes an issue and affects not only the worker performing the work but others close by. This can lead to potential
hearing loss and mishearing other important trade-related and safety communication. Straining postures and other injuries are dangerous when not performed correctly or for too long. Carpel tunnel syndrome and low back pain are common disorders developed by physical risk in construction.

Biological hazards result from exposure to certain organisms, fungus, and/or toxic substances from a biological source. Workers can be exposed to certain diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever or lyme disease if working closely in areas involving insects or organisms. Workers are also working close to others nearby and, as a consequence, could potentially spread the disease.

The social hazards in construction are a result of the frequent turnaround and the indefinite amount of work assigned, either because of the state of the economy or weather, can be stressful. Many project sites require longer hours and different locations. Because of this, workers tend to be away from their families and living in work camps, which reduces the amount of social time and support. Language barriers can also be stressful when working around others who speak another predominant language.

Workers and employers receive training and education in construction safety, required by federal law. This leads to a much lower number of health and safety hazards and improves the support of other contractors.

For more information about asbestos training, click here. 
To find and register for a course in other construction safety and training, visit