The biggest health risks for the construction engineer can result from manual handling, vibration, biological hazards, dust/fumes, being injured/loss of life due to machinery and noise pollution. This article addresses vibration and hazardous substances.
Hand held and machinery operated tools used in construction can cause permanent injury to the hands and arms and even the whole body if not used correctly. The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 regulates the use of vibrating tools. Vibration affects the nerves, blood vessels, wrists, joints of the hand and arms. This can lead to Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Vibrating machines include sanders, grinders, drills, chainsaws, needle guns and concrete breakers. Working in cold weather can increase the severity of HAVS. How one can be affected includes difficulty with simple things like closing buttons on clothes, typing and holding things. In carrying out a risk assessment on vibrating equipment one should consider who will be using what equipment. Persons at high risk would be those that regularly use hammer action tools for more than an hour a day (or 15 mins for medium risk) or rotary tools for more than 4 hours a day (or 1 hour a day for medium risk). Simple ways of controlling risk include eliminating unnecessary vibrating tasks at the design stage or using an alternative process that does not expose workers to vibration. Jigs and suspension systems can be used to take the weight and vibration of the tools away from the worker. Other control measures are rotating workers and making sure they have minimum exposure to vibrating tools. Gloves and warm clothing will keep the worker comfortable. Doing a health surveillance and observing workers will all help to establish safe working practices.
Construction dust is a big risk to one’s lungs. COSHH imposes regulations on employers to mitigate against the risk of hazardous substances to their workers. Ailments include asthma, lung cancer and silicosis. Cement based products like concrete can cause skin problems. Cement powder is also a respiratory irritant. Control measures include using pre-mixed concrete to avoid air borne dust. Gloves, footwear, waterproof trousers and skin care products should all be provided. Lead can be found in construction environments. Lead can be found in existing paintwork (especially in paint materials before the 1980’s) and on lead roofs. Using respiratory protective equipment, disposable overalls and disposable gloves can all help to control the risks against lead. Solvents and isocyanates used on construction sites can also pose hazards. Solvents include volatile compounds such as paints, thinners and glues. Isocyanates are present in polyurethane paints, coatings, foams, glues and flooring. Solvent risks should be reduced where possible, for example, using water based paint and using respiratory protective equipment when spraying. Also, using products that do not contain isocyanates or at least less volatile forms.