The construction business is an important industry with over 7.5 million individuals of the United States functioning as construction workers. It is also an industry with extremely high rates of work related hazards to the workers who are constantly exposed to high risks and dangers of the construction sites. Considering the magnitude of the problem, the researcher aims to identify the ten most frequently occurring hazards faced by the workers and laborers at the construction sites.
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In the construction industry, the laborers and site workers are liable to face innumerable dangers and risks of health and safety each day, due to the exposure to situations and materials which can affect the overall health of the worker, not only in the short term but also the long term (Unionsafe, 2002).
By examining the typical hazards which puts the construction workers at risk of fatal injury, the report aims to elucidate in detail the potential dangers and the causes of these dangers. In the report, the researcher assesses each of the ten safety hazards with the intention of determining appropriate safety measures to manage the safety and reduce the risks of these hazards to the laborers working at the construction sites.
The top ten hazards which construction site laborers or workers are exposed to are as follows:
The National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) surveillance system of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recognized ‘Falls’ to rank fourth in the leading causes of fatalities due to occupational injury, between the year 1980 and 1989 and are the cause of ten percent of all the injury deaths occurring as a result of occupational hazards (Jenkins, Kisner, Fosbroke, et al., 1993). This data also reveals that the construction laborers are prone to the maximum rates of fatalities, primarily due to falls at the sites of work.
The death toll among construction site workers rose to thirty-two percent by the year 1996 (US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1996). In the state of Washington alone, twenty-nine percent of the construction site laborers suffered fatal injuries due to falls between the years 1973 and 1983 (Buskin, Paulozzi, 1987), while the state of New Jersey witnessed fatalities to the tune of forty-six percent between the years 1983 and 1989 (Sorock, Smith, Goldoft, 1993).
Falls occur in the construction industry due to the various everyday jobs which pose the threat of fall hazards to the laborers. These tasks include multiple situation in which the workers are required to install shingles on roofs, erect skeletons for buildings and structures, climb high towers, paint buildings and bridges and innumerable other tasks which result in fatal injuries sometimes leading to death of the workers (McVittie, 1995).
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Numerous construction workers are constantly exposed to fall hazards, which has now become an accepted aspect of employment. Falls and consequent injuries may be caused due to the negligence of workers in realizing fall hazards, the failure in utilizing the equipments or gears provided for personal protection of the workers, loss of balance, tripping or slipping on the sometimes slippery surfaces of the construction sites, or in some cases due to the failure in functioning of the necessary machinery or equipment (McVittie, 1995).
The NTOF has recognized falls occurring from common locations including ladders, scaffolds, steel erections and construction equipment and materials to be the reason for maximum falls (US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1984; Jenkins, Kisner, Fosbroke, et al., 1993). Research also confirms that falls are the primary cause of death and serious injuries in the construction industry and have been the cause of twenty five percent of the total deaths occurring among construction laborers in the year 1989 (Kisner & Fosbroke, 1994).
Falls in the construction industry occur due to various reasons, some of which are listed below;
- Falls from ladders
- Laborers to the tune of forty-six percent, working at the construction sites have been reported to have suffered fatal injuries and deaths due to falls occurring from ladders.
- Falls from Scaffolds
- Nearly seventy percent of the construction site workers are reported to have suffered fatalities due to falls from scaffolds.
- Falls from Building Structures
- Sixty-one percent of the falls resulting in fatalities occurred among construction site workers due to falling off from building structures.
Owing to the high potential and risk of falls faced by construction site workers, it is imperative for employers to have in place suitable fall protection programs, so that the fall related fatalities can be reduced. Fall protection programs are of two kinds;
- Passive fall protection systems which on installation protect the workers without any active participation from them. Examples of such systems are guardrails, parapets, walls, safety nets etc.
- Active fall protection systems are those devices which necessitate the participation of workers to ensure protection from falls. For instance the use of a body strap by a worker which is connected to a support point.
Employers are expected to develop and implement written fall protection programs in accordance with the OSHA 29 CFR 1926.502 (29 CFR Parts 1910 and 1926). The program must be designed in such a manner that it appropriately identifies and addresses all the crucial aspects of safety and potential risks of the construction site workers. It is also considered necessary to train the workers and laborers regarding the unsafe conditions and hazards at the construction sites. This training includes classroom training instruction in addition to the practical training sessions, which should ideally begin with the commencement of the hiring period of the new laborers (29 CFR Parts 1910 and 1926).
The employers are also expected to provide appropriate equipment and devices for the protection against falls after analyzing each job hazard in great detail. Daily inspection of the site to ascertain that the required measures are being implemented is also the duty of the employers. This can be accomplished by conducting safety inspections of the devices and equipments and whether the workers are utilizing them effectively (29 CFR Parts 1910 and 1926).
Employers are also expected to establish rescue programs and other medical facilities to ascertain that in case of mishaps, workers get the fastest medical attention and the fatalities due to falls can be reduced. The participation of the workers and site laborers in the implementation of the fall systems is a necessity. As such the employers must ensure that workers are encouraged to participate in the safety of the construction sites and are equally involved in reducing the risks, hazards and fatalities of the workers and laborers at the construction sites (29 CFR Parts 1910 and 1926).
Electrocution and Explosions
Construction site workers and laborers are exposed to innumerable risks which are hazardous and sometimes result in fatalities (Jenkins, Kisner, Fosbroke, et al., 1993). Electrical currents and explosions due to pressurized equipments including gas cylinders, boilers and tanks containing liquids could result in fatalities at the construction sites. The explosions may be a result of inability to use the devices and equipments inappropriately or due to leakages in pipes and devices. Inability to operate the devices and equipments in an appropriate manner has the potential to cause disruptions which could result in injuries of not one but many workers at the sites.
The devices which have the potential to severely harm or injure the construction site workers include:
- Machines with mobile and revolving or moving devices
- Electrical devices and switches or gears
- Pressurized devices which contain explosive materials for instance gas pipes
- Universal Lifts
- Hoists and cranes operated by electric power
- Cylinders with technical gases which have been stored inappropriately and are exposed to sunlight, precipitation and mishandling
- Secure cylinders which are accessed by unauthorized personnel
Construction workers are prone to musculoskeletal disorders due to the complex nature of the work involved (World Health Organization, 1977). The most common injury occurring among these site laborers is back injury, particularly the lower-back. The injuries can be in the form of sprains and strains which have been caused due to the difficult tasks of lifting, pushing and pulling of heavy materials or devices and lowering or carrying of goods which have the potential to cause damage to the muscular parts of the body.
Shoulder problems and pains are also a common compliant of the workers and laborers at the construction sites. Construction site workers are also exposed to immense vibrations which are considered to be a hazard of this industry. The vibration may be caused due to the handling of hand tolls which produce hand arm vibrations. It could also result due to the extreme cold temperatures to which these workers are exposed to.
Mechanical help in moving the devices and carrying heavy loads is the optimal way to prevent these common muscular problems occurring among the construction site workers. The knowledge of correct seating and standing postures would also prove highly beneficial in the prevention of muscular injuries among construction site workers.
Another important strategy for avoiding injuries and muscular stress is to sit rather than kneel for works which require squatting for longer periods of time. Teamwork while lifting heavy loads and moving heavy devices or equipments also proves highly effective in avoiding muscular injuries among the laborers who constantly lift heavy loads and injure their backs or other body parts such as shoulders or arms (US Department of Labor, 1990).
Fatal Diseases Such as Cancer
Construction site workers and laborers are exposed to health hazards sometimes leading to deadly diseases such as cancer (Union safe, 2002). There are numerous materials which are required in the construction business, which could risk the health of the workers, are as follows:
Synthetic Mineral Fibres (SMF)
The SMFs are fibrous products which comprise of materials such as ceramics, rock-wool and fiberglass, and are necessary in the construction industry. The constant exposure to SMFs is likely to cause irritations of the skin, nose, ear and throat. Fiberglass is believed to cause health risks such as cancer, in cases of constant exposure.
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Asbestos is another material which is considered to be hazardous to the health of the construction site workers. Besides causing irritations to the ear, nose, throat and skin, asbestos is also associated with the risk of lung cancer among construction site workers (Union safe, 2002).
Custom Wood and Wood Dust
Custom woods comprises of a chemical known as formaldehyde which has the potential to cause cancers in humans and the inhalation of which can cause the sensations of burning in the eyes, nose and throat. These materials are required by construction site workers in activities such as flooring and wall panelling when greater quantities of fibreboard are required. The larger particles of dust are trapped in the nasal passage during construction activities such as sawing and drilling, and can reduce the functioning of the lung activities, resulting in cancer of the lungs. Exposure to these materials is also likely to cause asthma and produce allergies among construction site workers.
The risk of irritations and even possible cancer of the lungs can be effectively reduced by protective clothing provided by the employer, which must be worn by all the workers. It is essential for the employers to have an optimal dust extraction system in place in the form of masks and eye protection gear during the process of wood machining. Appropriate ventilation is absolutely necessary to minimize the risk of exposure to the harmful materials at the construction sites.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Noise at the construction sites is considered a substantial health hazard to the workers and laborers associated with the industry (World Health Organization, 1977). Noise can be from the individual tasks of the workers as well as the collective tasks performed at the construction sites. Not only the high levels of noise hazardous to the health of the workers but the inability to hear what is going on in the surroundings also puts the workers at great risks. The constant exposure to the high levels of noise also makes the laborers more prone to permanent loss of hearing.
Inhalation Hazards Causing Respiratory Problems and Diseases
Construction site workers are prone to develop serious injuries due to the diseases of the lungs and other respiratory problems, which develop due to the high exposure of dust and harmful gases and substance at the construction sites (World Health Organization, 1977). Workers are likely to develop chronic lung diseases such as silicosis and asbestosis, which are diagnosed after many years of working at construction sites (US Department of Labor, 1990).
These diseases usually occur due to the crystalline silica or asbestos which gets deposited in the lungs. The different processes involved in the construction business including drilling and hauling which involve the disturbance and exposure to concrete, pose tremendous threat to the health of the workers. Workers are also likely to suffer from lead poisoning, especially during the demolishing and repair of bridges which increase the exposure of the workers to lead which is a harmful substance and is likely to damage the health of the workers especially the reproductive system, kidneys and in some cases even the nervous system. Inhalation of lead and the harmful substance present in the air at the construction sites can cause several fatal cancers of the lungs and the respiratory system.
Skin problems and diseases are some of the more common problems which construction site workers face (World Health Organization, 1977). Extreme exposure to cement and its by-products causes numerous skin problems. These problems also give rise to allergies and rashes which are caused by the irritants in the chemicals commonly used at in the construction industry. Constant exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun is also a health hazard faced by construction site workers, which raises the risk of skin cancers (US Department of Labor, 1990). Exposure of the skin to hazardous substances can be potentially reduced if the employers take certain measures. The use of personal hygiene and protective equipments is a good way to reduce excessive exposure of the skin to harmful substances and radiation.
Damage to the Body Organs Such as Brain, Kidney, Liver
Chemicals and solvents which are used commonly used in the construction industry for cleaning, painting and other similar processes evaporate easily into the atmosphere (World Health Organization, 1977). The exposure to these materials including paints, varnishes and other such substances increases the risk of health problems among the workers (US Department of Labor, 1990). These substances can enter the body through the skin and the respiratory system and cause serious threat to the nervous system of the body. The short-term effects include problems such as nausea, headaches and drowsiness along with other skin problems.
Repeated and constant exposure to these chemical substances can be extremely hazardous as the workers are at risk of long-term damage to the other body organs such as the kidneys and liver. In some cases, workers could also develop serious problems such as memory loss and dementia.
Bacterial infections caused due to sewage spills at construction sites also pose serious hazards to the health and safety of the construction site laborers (US Department of Labor, 1990; World Health Organization, 1977). Immediate contact with raw sewage increases the risk of developing Hepatitis A. this is generally caused by contamination of food and water with the infectious bacteria causing the spread of the deadly disease. The disease produces symptoms of fever and headache in the affected patients and is accompanied by nausea, abdominal pain and even jaundice. The best and the most effective manner to prevent this disease is vaccination.
Mental and Psychological Problems
The constant exposure to noise, harmful chemicals, exposure to extreme temperatures, results in several mental and psychological problems among the laborers and construction site workers (World Health Organization, 1977; US Department of Labor, 1990). Lack of focus and concentration, irritability, lack of sleep, and several such other problems are common among the workers. Brain related problems affecting the entire nervous system, has a hazardous effect on the entire well being of the workers and results in severe and long lasting effects in the lives of these workers (US Department of Labor, 1990).
Thus we see that the health of the construction workers are at constant risk and the employers must take care to see that measures are put into place to reduce the risks and the hazards to the lives of these workers. The focus of the companies and employers must be on prevention as the workers and laborers of the construction industries have the highest rates of fatalities due to injuries and the deteriorating health of the site workers.
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