Construction workers, including bricklayers and labourers have the highest mortality rate within the construction industry. The main hazards in construction are chemical and physical. Chemical exposure includes breathing in vapours, gas and dust. Working outdoors exposures workers to the elements such as high temperatures, low temperatures, wet and windy conditions. Physical risks include falling debris, operating dangerous machinery/tools, electrocution, slippery surfaces, manual labour, noise, working with asbestos and basically any physical hazard on site. The problem is that the hazards and risks are often unknown and are ever changing in this dynamic work environment.
The five leading categories for ill health for the construction industry include hand-arm vibration syndrome, noise induced hearing loss, skin disorders, respiratory disease and musculoskeletal disorders.
Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)
HAVS is caused by operating hand held power tools and hand guided equipment. Frequent use of these tools can cause vascular and musculoskeletal problems. Regulations under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations (COVWR, 2005) impose responsibilities on employers to carry out a health surveillance at exposure action value (EAV) over an average eight hour working day. Occupational health professionals carrying out health checks must have a recognised qualification from Occupational Medicine.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Requirements under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005) make it a requirement to carry out health surveillance for construction workers frequently exposed to noise. Monitoring means regular hearing tests, records being kept and the maintenance of any hearing protection used.
Work place dermatitis forms 80% of skin disorders contracted at work. This can be caused by fine particles of cement. Duties exist under COSHH (2002) and MHSW (1999) regulations to carry out a risk assessment to ensure workers are suitably monitored.
Silica, asbestos and paint exposure can cause asthma and pulmonary disease. Occupational asthma due to prolonged exposure to irritants can lead to a chronic disability. Silica exposure can occur due to concrete removal, demolition work, sanding, cutting, drilling and grinding. Health surveillance should be considered if there is high risk of silicosis. Although chronic pulmonary disease is mainly caused by smoking, exposure to dusts, gases, fumes and vapours at work can cause this condition with a progressive decline in lung function. Requirements laid out in the Control of Asbestos at Work regulations (2006) require a health surveillance when working with asbestos.
Musculo-skeletal Disorders (MSD)
Areas affected are the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and other soft tissues. Although there is no requirement for health surveillance, symptoms should be monitored. MSD’s can occur in any kind of work, from typing to heavy manual labour. However, there are certain tasks that pose a greater risk of developing MSD’s: these include repetitive lifting, bending and lifting in awkward positions, working too long without breaks, repeating an action frequently and exerting too much pressure. In these circumstances, it may be necessary to refer a worker to the Occupational health practitioner.
Although a hazardous industry to work in, if the requirements under the health and safety legislation is adhered to there can only be a reduction in occupational health diseases and there has been so over the past years. However, this is a non-static and ever evolving industry so new measures and regulations will no doubt always be part of its future.
Sources hse website