The Big Four: Construction’s Health Hazards

The Big Four: Construction’s Health Hazards

We hear a lot about the importance of safety in the construction industry but health concerns, although related, frequently take a back seat. Efforts to mitigate health risk factors typically fall behind efforts in safety, even though there’s no question health hazards have a major impact on workers, productivity, and ultimately businesses.

National industrial hygiene experts are making a push to increase awareness about the top four health hazards. The intent is for the health recommendations to compliment those of top construction safety standards.

The Virginia-based American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) is one of the groups leading this charge. Their report, titled Focus Four for Health: An Initiative to Address Four Major: Construction Health Hazards contained practical advice for construction leaders. Each section of the four health hazards contained a “What can you do?” section to help in managing the hazard.


The Big Four Construction Health Hazards – What Can You Do?

Authors stated that just about every construction company places a high importance on reducing or eliminating injuries, but almost every jobsite contains common health hazards that still pose a risk and are often overlooked.

Reasons behind this could be attributable to a “seeing is believing” scenario in that many health standards are less observable than a safety violation. Also, injuries are immediate whereas health hazards affect the body slower over time.

Given the national and statewide reductions that have occurred in workplace injuries over the past decade or so, the AIHA stated that now is the time to take action against these health hazards to further protect the well being of workers. The four big hazards addressed in the report, and strategies to alleviate them, are as follows:


Manual Material Handling

Lifting, lowering, bending, twisting, pivoting pushing, pulling, stooping, reaching – undoubtedly all in a day’s work for builders. It’s a physically demanding career, no doubt, but we’re not talking about single injuries here. We’re talking about overexertion built up over time, in some cases years, from repeated traumas. A single overexertion might not even cause much pain, but repeated instances of the same overexertion over decades can lead to significant musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

To control this hazard, the AIHA recommends planning ahead to reduce overexertion by determining where materials will be delivered/used, how they will be moved, ways to reduce awkward postures, availability of newer/more appropriate tools, and increased efficiency processes.



Human hearing is a bit like a knife, over time it gets dull. Unfortunately, unlike knives, our hearing can’t really be sharpened. High noise levels – like the kind experienced by over 75 percent of construction workers – damages the sensory cells inside the ear. These don’t grow back, resulting in permanent hearing reductions. Damage caused by noise happens gradually over time and often is unnoticed until it’s too late.

To reduce noise and protect hearing, begin by performing an audit of your noise levels. Most equipment vendors have noise information associated with their tools, or you can use a sound meter or smartphone app. Then, determine if any of the noise can be reduced or, if not, what type of hearing protection will be needed for nearby workers.


Air Contaminants

There are dozens of different common jobsite air contaminants arising from activities like cutting, grinding, welding, and others. These contaminants are nefarious, creating a whole rainbow of short- and long-term health effects. Even brief exposures can frequently be more dangerous than many realize. Lung diseases rate almost twice as high in construction as other industries.

To protect workers, it’s important to know where chemicals are being used, which tasks generate contaminants, how long are exposure durations, and what control measures can be used, among a range of other things depending on the nature of the work. In this category, the AIHA strongly recommends using all appropriate protective equipment and engineered controls.


High Temperatures

It’s been hot out there these past few summers – the top 17 warmest summers on record, to be specific. Working outside or in unfinished buildings, often in heavy gear, means that workers get heated up quite frequently.

Even though this is normal for builders, it’s rare for people to know the symptoms of heat-related health effects. Heavy sweating, nausea, redness, confusion, or vomiting are all signs that something serious is happening. Heat stroke is probably the most lethal, followed by heat exhaustion, rashes, cramps, and others.

Employers are advised to educate workers on the symptoms of heat-related issues and have an emergency plan in place. Also, make sure that adequate water is available, heat indexes are taken into consideration, monitoring is performed, and heat control measures are onsite (shade or cooler break areas).


Now You Know.

The health hazards mentioned here are just as dangerous to workers as the other jobsite safety hazards companies work to address every day and should be treated with the same level of attention. Though ailments caused by these things might be invisible at first, they’re awful when they surface. We can stop that from happening by understanding the threat.

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Category Features, Health