National estimates suggest that about 10 times as many fatal occupational illnesses occur compared with fatal occupational injuries.¹ Furthermore, one study concluded that the risk of developing an occupationally-related disease over a lifetime in a construction trade is two to six times greater than for non-construction workers.² For various reasons, awareness and efforts to manage health risks tend to lag behind programs and efforts aimed at preventing workplace injuries on construction sites. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), in its “Focus Four for Health: An Initiative to Address Four Major Construction Health Hazards,” is trying make the construction industry aware about health hazards. The four major health hazards posed to construction workers are:
Manual Material Handing
The handling of construction materials can result in overexertion due to the lifting, pulling, pushing and carrying associated with this common task. These physical movements while handling materials are the top cause of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, which make up more than 30% of all work-related construction injuries and approximately half of all workers’ compensation costs.
High noise levels are linked to myriad conditions including hearing loss, tinnitus — a chronic ringing in the ears — sleep disturbances, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression and balance impairment. According to AIHA, almost 75% of construction workers likely have been exposed to noise levels above the recommended exposure limits set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Asthma, irritation to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, nervous system problems, kidney damage and cancer are just some of the short-term and long-term conditions that can be caused or exacerbated by dust, fume, vapor and gas exposure on a jobsite. More than 50% of construction workers have reported that they are regularly exposed to these substances twice a week or more on the job.
Exposure to high temperatures on the jobsite can lead to a variety of heat-related conditions — heat exhaustion, heat syncope (i.e., fainting/dizziness), heat cramps, heat rash — but heat stroke is the most serious. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if ignored. Those who are new on the job are particularly vulnerable to heat illness.
AIHA’s “Focus Four for Heath” is a free guidance document that describes practical steps employers can take to address these four common construction health hazards.
Download AIHA’s “Focus Four for Health”
- Leigh, JP. 2011. Economic burden of occupational injury and illness in the United States. December 2011. The Milbank Qtrly. 89:4:728-772. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1468-0009.2011.00648.x.
- Ringen K, Dement J, Welch L, Dong X, Bingham E, and Quinn P. 2014. Risks of a lifetime in construction. Part II: Chronic occupational diseases. Am. J. Ind. Med. 57(11):1235-1245. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ajim.22366.