Construction workers may not realize all the dangers they face from breathing the air in closed construction workplaces, such as office buildings. But many substances get released into the air during construction that could put construction employees in danger of long-term health problems. Workers can be exposed to three main types of compounds:
- Particulates. Dusts and fibers can be produced from sources like drywall, plaster, concrete, flooring, and ductwork that can exacerbate lung conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease. Fiberglass can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract when released into the air or inhaled. Toxic substances like asbestos and PCPs can result in serious long-term health problems.
- Biological Materials. Chronic dampness from water leaks can release bacteria, mold, and other microbes into the environment. If not controlled, these materials can spread potentially allergenic and infectious dust into the building.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Building materials like caulk, sealants, paint, varnishes, wall coverings, and flooring can release these gases into the air. If not controlled, they can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat and worsen asthma.
How Employers Cause These Health Hazards
Employers must have safety practices in place to avoid exposing construction workers to these dangerous substances being released in the air. Employers’ unsafe practices that contribute to these hazards include:
- Not appointing personnel to be responsible for ensuring that airborne contaminants are controlled.
- Not providing construction workers with personal protection equipment like respirators, gloves, eye wear, head gear, and steel-toed boots.
- Not keeping building materials dry and not drying out any wet materials within 24 hours of when they become damaged.
- Not cleaning up spills—especially solvents, cleaners, gasoline, or other toxic substances—promptly.
- Not sealing unnecessary openings in walls, ceilings, and floors to prevent substances like mold, radon, moisture, or pesticides to be released into the air.
- Not temporarily sealing ductwork to prevent debris or dust to contaminate the air.
- Not providing proper ventilation, especially when VOC’s could be released into the air, and not providing workers with respirators when working with these dangerous substances.
Construction workers might not even realize at first that their exposure to these dangerous substances is the cause of their respiratory and other long-term health problems. However, these medical problems can be life-altering and could result in a worker becoming permanently disabled. He may be able to hold his employer liable for his lost wages and medical bills under workers’ compensation.
If you have suffered a workplace injury, order our FREE electronic book, What the Injured Worker Needs to Know: Your Workers’ Comp Guide, to begin learning about your legal options.