Protecting Construction Workers’ Lungs is a Safety Issue

By on November 7, 2018

From For Construction Pros:  Although air quality often takes a backseat to occupational safety, lung cancer mortalities are 50% higher among construction workers than the general population. The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) and Duke University found that nearly one-fifth of lung diseases among construction workers may be a result of harmful emissions on site. While some of these toxins are considered respiratory irritants, others are long-known carcinogens directly linked to lung cancer.

The nature of this job is undoubtedly dangerous as it requires physical labor that not only raises the risk of accidental injuries but that of inhaling toxic dust onsite. Among this dust may be harmful particles such as silica and asbestos, which both have a profound impact on the lungs.

As of late, silica has been referred to as the “new asbestos” because of its prevalence throughout the building trade and its ability to cause silicosis, an incurable lung disease.

OSHA reports that 2 million construction workers are exposed to crystalline silica and over 800,000 workers exposed to levels beyond the recommended limit. Often a result of sawing or cutting concrete products, it has been found that these workers are twice as likely to develop chronic obstructive lung diseases like chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Common power tools, including masonry saws and drills, can easily rustle up fibers; however, OSHA provides approved methods for dust control onsite. Experts suggest using a proper face mask and wet saw, which will help weigh down the particles and prevent them from lifting and becoming airborne. Additionally, employers should establish a written exposure control plan, avoid sweeping or using compressed air, and offer routine medical exams for all employees. Extra caution is recommended on the job because breathing in crystalline silica can not only cause silicosis but chronic respiratory issues such as COPD and lung cancer.

Asbestos also has a long-standing history within the construction industry and is a leading cause of occupational cancer around the world. Unlike silica, asbestos is not exclusively linked to one type of material but can be found in almost any building-related product manufactured before 1980. While it can still exist within cement, it’s most widely known for its use in heat-resistant materials, floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, and pipe-wrapping.

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