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Written By: Robert E Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President
September 20, 2018; Updated November 2021
Health Hazard at Construction Sites
When we think of construction sites, especially those involving infrastructures like bridges, tunnels, and highways, we usually picture heavy equipment like excavators, bulldozers, steamrollers and heavy-duty dump trucks. These visible signs of construction activity tend to make us think more about safety problems than of health hazards. But the reality is that there can be just as many, if not more, health-related hazards then there are safety ones. Moreover, they may not be as easily recognized or can affect the health of the workers many years after the job is done.
Construction activities are on-going throughout the year. This means that construction workers on infrastructure projects will have to deal with extremes of heat and cold temperatures in most parts of the country.
There are biological hazards that the workers may deal with as well. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are three common plants that pose health risks. Wild dogs, rats, snakes, ticks (Lyme Disease), mosquitoes, bees, hornets, and wasps can also be significant health hazards on a work site.
There is also the potential for chemical exposures on a construction site. Under dry conditions, dust is usually generated by excavating and bulldozing. The most common dust hazard is SILICA- now specifically regulated by OSHA (29CFR 1925.1153)!
Additionally, are the soil particles that make up the dust cloud coated with a hazardous chemical from industrial contamination such as asbestos, lead, mercury, chemicals, oil or gasoline residues? This must be addressed for it is often the case when building demolition occurs, especially for old industrial buildings. Even if the dust is considered non-hazardous, working in a dusty environment can produce eye, nose, throat irritation and respiratory problems. What is worse is that the effects of exposure may not show up until many years thereafter-such as with Asbestos (Asbestosis, Lung Cancer, Mesothelioma).
Other health hazards that present an area of concern arise when construction occurs on old (polluted) factory sites, landfills, and former railways. Also, construction may occur on illegal dumps where the ground, soil, and groundwater have been (or may have been) contaminated anywhere between a few years to a few decades- into the past.
Most construction projects specify that a Site-Specific Health and Safety Plan (HASP) be developed that addresses all possible safety and HEALTH hazards within the area and discusses what to do to protect workers and neighbors. These plans usually based on property history, soil testing, groundwater sampling, and even adjacent properties.
Atlantic Environmental’s highly trained and experienced staff can help you produce SITE SPECIFIC HASP, which will identify not only the physical hazards involved but also the chemical and biological ones, as well.