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An investigation of health hazards on a new construction project.

Schneider S; Susie P
Washington, DC: Center to Protect Workers' Rights, 1993 Apr; :1-41
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 700 construction workers were killed on the job in 1990. As alarming as this number is, the BLS concedes that it may underestimate the number of deaths. With 25 percent of all occupational fatalities, construction stands out as the industry division with the highest number of deaths. Clearly, construction is a dangerous industry and construction workers know it. The immediate reality of deaths on the job may overshadow the fact that construction workers also face serious long-term health hazards on the job. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has documented at least 77 toxic agents on construction sites. The agency has also found elevated death rates as a result of cancer and other diseases among construction workers. To date, however, little exposure monitoring has been done and reports in the literature about exposure levels on these jobs are rare. The goal of the investigation of health hazards on the new construction project -- the study underlying this report -- was to document the range and magnitude of exposures associated with construction work. Such information permits evaluation of the health risks posed by exposures and provides a basis for recommending suitable control methods. We chose to start with a new construction project because we thought it would present a "cleaner" problem than looking at a renovation or demolition site where the exposure picture would be complicated by materials already in place, such as asbestos and lead. We intended to identify all chemicals scheduled for use and document exposures throughout a construction project in order to determine the full range and magnitude of potential exposures. In addition to chemical exposures, we set out to measure noise exposures and identify potential ergonomic hazards for further investigation and intervention. Noise is a well-known hazard of construction work but little exposure monitoring has been done. Ergonomic injuries are also widespread among construction workers but have received little attention, at least in the United States. The focus of the study was a new office construction project in the Washington, DC area. The project was a four-story steel structure which now serves as headquarters for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The construction project began in April of 1991 and was completed in July of 1992. The general contractor was James G. Davis Corporation. Twenty-five subcontractors were on site at different stages of construction. No more than 150 workers were working on the site at any time. Over the course of the project, we did the following: 1. Attended bimonthly Project Planning Committee meetings composed of union safety stewards, contractor representatives, CPWR - Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), the Occupational Health Foundation (OHF), and the George Washington University occupational medicine program (GWU). During these meetings upcoming work was discussed and potential exposures were identified. We discussed their activities and presented sampling results. Minutes of these meetings are recorded and provide documentation of the chronological occurrence of various activities and associated exposures. 2. Conducted routine site walk-throughs. Many brief, intermittent chemical exposures occur during construction work. The transience of such exposures prevents accurate characterization. In order to document the occurrences of such exposures, we began attempting during walk-throughs to track potential exposures by generating lists of chemicals on site. Collected samples of exposures to noise, mineral wool, asphalt fumes, welding fumes, silica, paint mists, solvents, dusts, and epoxy resins. 3. Videotaped and analyzed work processes for ergonomic hazards. 4. Provided recommendations and information to contractors and workers on topics such as noise levels and hearing protection, silica exposure and NIOSH-approved respiratory protection, and welding fumes and appropriate controls.
Construction-workers; Construction-industry; Hazardous-materials; Noise; Musculoskeletal-system-disorders; Ergonomics; Mineral-wool; Fibrous-dusts; Asphalt-fumes; Welding; Solvent-vapors; Solvents; Paints; Dusts; Dust-particles; Particulates; Particulate-dust; Aerosols; Personal-protective-equipment; Personal-protection; Respiratory-protective-equipment; Respiratory-protection; Hearing-conservation; Hearing-protection
Publication Date
Document Type
Funding Amount
Funding Type
Cooperative Agreement; Construction
Fiscal Year
Identifying No.
Source Name
An investigation of health hazards on a new construction project
Performing Organization
Center to Protect Workers' Rights, Washington, DC
Page last reviewed: July 9, 2021
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division