Each year, about 160 million people suffer work-related illnesses worldwide. Hazardous substances are a leading cause of these illnesses, with the construction industry experiencing a disproportionately high number of chemical-related injuries and illnesses.
The number of fatalities due to exposure to hazardous substances is alarmingly high. In 2019 alone, 642 workers lost their lives in the U.S. due to exposure to harmful chemicals and environments. Worldwide, exposure to hazardous substances accounts for roughly 651,279 deaths per year.
These numbers can be alarming for anyone planning to undertake a construction project. As the person in charge of the construction site, part of your responsibility is to ensure your workers stay safe. This includes protecting everyone on the construction site from hazardous chemicals.
Of course, the best way to stay safe from chemical substances on industrial construction sites is by knowing as much as possible about these substances. That’s why we prepared this comprehensive guide on the subject.
Read on to learn more.
Which Chemicals Are Common in Construction Sites?
People in construction site jobs are regularly exposed to a variety of chemicals. Some of these chemicals pose a huge risk to their health. In this section, we look at six of the top chemical substances present in many construction sites.
Asbestos is one of the most common hazardous substances in workplaces. Currently, over 125 million workers around the world are exposed to this harmful chemical.
Some of the building materials that contain asbestos include floor tile, joint compound, pipes, cement board, and shingles. Exposure to the substance happens when workers inhale fibers in the air containing the chemical.
All types of asbestos can cause pulmonary diseases, including lung cancer, cancer of the ovary, cancer of the larynx, and fibrosis of the lungs.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is among the most commonly used construction materials. The material is used in pipes, flooring, ductwork, taping compounds, block insulation, shingles, and sheet roofing. In electrical wiring, PVC is perfect as an insulator.
But while PVC is an excellent construction material, its emissions can be dangerous. These emissions are released when the material starts to break down. They include dioxin, vinyl chloride, and ethylene dichloride.
Workers exposed to PVC over a long time can suffer serious health effects. These include cancer, reproductive damage, neurological damage, endocrine disruption, and birth defects.
Lead has, for a long time, been documented to be hazardous. However, it’s still one of the most widely used materials in manufacturing and construction processes. The material is especially used in flux, solder, and plumbing fixtures such as pipes and kitchen faucets.
Even in tiny doses, lead can be dangerous. Exposure can cause cancer and an increased risk of hypertension. People may also experience kidney disease, reproductive toxicity, and reduced fertility.
Discussions about the effect of mercury on the health of people have been ongoing for decades. This chemical is extremely easy to absorb but almost impossible for the body to remove.
In construction sites, mercury can be found in CFL bulbs, certain electronic devices, industrial batteries, and so on. Exposure to the chemical can lead to many conditions. Kidney disease and impaired vision are some of them. You may also experience damage to the digestion and immune systems and impairment of the nervous system.
Formaldehyde is among the most known carcinogens. Some of the construction materials that contain this substance include plywood, polyurethane foam insulation, paper products, and carpets.
Exposure to the chemical causes irritation to your mucous membranes. Workers may also experience asthma-like respiratory problems and skin issues. Itching and dermatitis can also occur.
Flame retardants are chemicals that inhibit the start or spread of fire. As you can probably imagine, these substances are in high demand. Some of the construction materials that contain flame retardants include thermal insulation boards.
Unfortunately, these chemicals can cause a variety of serious health problems. Flame retardants have been proven to cause cancer, endocrine disruption, and birth defects.
Mitigating the Risk of Exposure
Now that you know how devastating exposure to chemicals in the construction site can be, it’s time to look at some practical ways to reduce the risk. Here are four suggestions to get you started.
Focus on the Unseen Threat
Conducting frequent site safety regulations is part of employer diligence. Unfortunately, many of these inspections focus only on physical hazards. The unseen threats from chemical exposure are largely ignored.
As the site manager, you need to come up with a way to test and identify potential chemical threats. This way, you can take action to prevent potential injury or illness as a result of exposure.
Offer Staff Training
Another effective way to reduce staff exposure is by providing employee training on safety protocols. The training makes workers aware of the potential health risks associated with the materials they’re dealing with. You also get to equip them on how to protect themselves from hazardous chemicals.
Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Whenever workers are handling chemical substances, they need special PPE. Such equipment helps keep their eyes, faces, and other parts of their bodies safe from the substances. They also protect the workers from inhaling the fumes produced during the chemical reaction of the substances.
Handle Spills Immediately
The threat of exposure is increased when spills occur on the construction site. Some of the substances that may spill include oil, diesel, paint, solvents, and many more. Most of these substances contain chemicals that can harm people and the environment.
Always arm yourself with an effective response plan. Investing in a spill kit is a good place to start. Where the spill is major, alert a chemical spill response expert to take care of it.
Manage Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Your Construction Sites
Construction sites can be highly dangerous, with many workers risking chemical exposure day in and day out. Some of these chemicals can cause serious health conditions, some of which are fatal. It’s why you need to arm yourself and your workers with the right information and tools to mitigate these threats.
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