We all know – or, at least, should know – about construction’s Fatal Four Hazards: Falls, Struck-by, Caught-in or Between, and Electrical. Those hazards get most of the attention in most safety training courses in construction and rightfully so, they contribute to a large majority of all deaths on the jobsite. A recent study, however, highlights the need to take certain health hazards more seriously, due to their long term effects.
The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) has recently released a report titled “Focus Four for Health: An Initiative to Address Four Major Construction Health Hazards,” which intends to raise awareness of some overlooked hazards on the jobsite.
The 54-page document targets construction workers and employers and highlights four common health hazards on the job, manual material handling, noise, air contaminants, and high temperatures.
Generally speaking, most of these hazards have negative long term effects and many workers don’t realize they have related health issues from these hazards until it’s too late. That’s why it’s extremely important to focus on them for the long term health of yourself, you co-workers, and your employees.
Manual Material Handling
Lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying, and holding heavy objects is extremely commonplace on the jobsite and is a major contributor to injuries cause by overexertion, the report says. Muscle sprains and strains are very common from these activities, as are chronic lifetime pain and other related problems.
Unsurprisingly, the most commonly affected parts of the body are back, shoulder, knees, hands, and arms. While all age ranges are affected by these injuries, younger workers need to learn early in their careers about the long term health effects before it’s too late.
The AIHA offers the following acronym to help you remember how likely certain manual material handling tasks are to cause overexertion: W-H-A-T PACE
Weight: heavier loads create a higher risk
Handling Ease: harder to move loads, such as objects without handles that cannot be carried close to the body, present higher risks
Awkward Postures: reaching, twisting, bending, or kneeling while supporting an object are higher risk
Time/distance: the longer you have to carry or hold something, the more likely you are to be overexerted
PACE: Set a good pace, don’t overwork yourself
Exposure to high levels of noise for extended periods of time is the main contributor of hearing loss and the damage is irreversible. In addition to hearing loss, high noise levels can contribute to the development of Tinnitus, the condition that causes you to hear a high pitched ringing noise when none is present.
Permanent hearing damage rarely happens suddenly on the job, it occurs slowly over time and is many time undetectable unless a hearing test is taken.
Exposure to decibel levels over 85 is considered the threshold for needing hearing protection. The report suggests that if you need to raise your voice to speak with someone an arm’s length away, then the noise level is over 85 decibels and hearing protection should be worn. There are obviously many tools and tasks that make a lot of noise on the construction site.
NIOSH has also released a noise meter app for smartphones that can monitor noise exposure.
Air contaminants have received a ton of coverage in recent years, mainly due to OSHA’s new, more strict regulations against silica dust exposure. Silica dust, which is mainly encountered when cutting, grinding, and chipping concrete, is known to cause debilitating lung diseases, but it’s not the only air contaminant hazard on the job.
Other air contaminants include carbon monoxide, strongly smelling chemicals, lead, and wood dust, among others. Some air contaminants can have immediate health effects, like carbon monoxide, but others build over time and may not be felt for decades, like silica dust.
Highly toxic materials, large amounts, long durations, dispersive equipment (sprayers, saws, drills), enclosed or confined spaces, and not using controls are the biggest risks when it comes to air contaminants, the report says.
High temperature is always a hot topic in the summer months, but workers and employers still continue to put themselves in harm’s way by not recognizing hazards. A lot of construction work is completed outdoor or in unconditioned areas, so our industry needs to take extra care to prevent hazards.
The most common health effects from high heat exposure are: heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, and heat rash. While many of these conditions are not life threatening, around 30 workers on average die each year from excessive heat exposure.
OSHA maintains that water, rest, and shade are the most important factors to avoiding heat illness and we’ve put together a list of several products that could help in those categories. Workers new to working in high heat are especially vulnerable to heat illness.
The Full Report
The full report is definitely worth a read, as it contains a lot of additional and useful information about the hazards discussed above. Each focus four health hazard section contains strategies to control the hazards, regulations and guidance, takeaway messages, examples, and additional resources to help lead your team to a safer work environment.