Health Risks in Construction

An Overview of Health Risks in Construction

It is no secret that construction can be a dangerous business, and there are many people who feel they can save a lot of money by taking on potentially hazardous tasks alone. This article is not intended to discourage, or encourage those who are tempted to carry out these tasks, but reading it will give you insight as to why taking on these tasks of your own is either a good or bad idea. There are a great deal of health risks and medical problems associated with the building trade, which can have both short-term and long-term implications. Some of these are fairly minor, while others will be more detrimental to individual’s health, but regardless of the risk, there is nobody who denies that all of these issues are best avoided.

Construction work can be dangerous so you need to be careful!

Construction work can be dangerous so you need to be careful!

Some of these health-related problems include; back pain, difficulty breathing, stress, hearing loss and more. All of these are undesirable to say the least, and ideally the relevant health assessments should have been carried out in order to prevent these problems from occurring.

Health Assessment Stages

A properly planned health assessment will be broken down into five main stages:

1)    Description - an adequate description needs to be created, highlighting any risks or potential hazards. Preliminary planning regarding how these risks are to be dealt with should also be considered

2)    Assessment this section identifies who is likely to be affected and how. This is the primary focus of this stage

3)    Eliminate the Risk - now that these risks have been identified, and plans have been put in place the risks need to be eliminated

4)    Risk Control - assuming that the immediate risks have been dealt with, it is likely that a few intrinsic risks or hazards will remain. Adequate steps need to be taken in order to minimise these dangers that cannot be eliminated

5)    Managing Risk - information, monitoring and supervision needs to be provided to ensure maximum levels of safety throughout the project

All construction sites, regardless of the size should have a properly thought-out risk assessment plan in pace. Even though the majority of them will have one, this does not necessarily make the workers and building contractors immune from health problems.

standard protection for construction workers

standard protection for construction workers

Medical Conditions Associated with the Building Trade

Some of the more common medical issues associated with the building trade are:

Dermatitis - this is basically a severe skin rash caused by excessive contact of various building materials. These materials include; wet cement, bitumen, petrol and adhesives, all of which can cause flaking, cracked and swollen skin. While dermatitis is not a matter of life and death, it is often uncomfortable and painful to the extent that it will affect work. Creams and ointments will usually be prescribed to solve this problem, but in the majority of cases, issues be avoided by wearing suitable gloves.
Hand-Arm Vibration - excessive use of power tools will ultimately lead to “hand-arm vibration syndrome.” Again, this is not life threatening, but symptoms do include a permanent feeling of numbness or tingling in the fingers, and a dramatic loss of strength in the hands, which will affect life quality. These symptoms are detrimental for obvious reasons, but to make matters worse they often lead to disrupted sleep and inability to perform everyday tasks. There is no cure for hand-arm vibration syndrome, but it can be prevented by wearing the correct equipment at all times.
Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) - this system refers to the muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and spinal discs that support skeletal movements. As many aspects of this system are interconnected, damaging it can often have long-lasting effects. Some of the most susceptible areas include the back, legs or shoulders, and symptoms can range from a mild discomfort to swelling or numbness. Even though the symptoms may not sound that bad, if they are not treated and dealt with they could term into chronic issues. MSD is usually brought on by excessive lifting, but can be avoided if the proper lifting techniques are used. This is why manual handling training is so important.
Loss of Hearing - excessive or sudden exposure to loud noises can cause a loss of hearing. This loss of hearing will usually be temporary, but if a person is affected badly enough it could prove to be permanent. In some cases, the effects of this can be subtle, and it’s only after a hearing test that a worker realises how seriously they are affected. Loss of hearing is not just defined by a diminished level of audibility, but a continuous buzzing or ringing in the ear could also indicate a problem. To prevent this from happening, earplugs/ear protectors need to be worn when necessary.

Respiratory Disease - unfortunately there are many diseases that will fit under what could be defined as an umbrella category, but one that instantly springs to mind is “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” (COPD). This is a nasty disease that is characterised by a restricted airflow, which results in phlegm production and an incurable cough. COPD is caused by excessive exposure to dust, smoke, fumes and gases, which are common in most building sites. The more often an individual is exposed to these dangerous bi-products, the more likely a person is to be affected. Like many health problems, this can be avoided by taking the right precautions, but it is worth noting that COPD develops gradually, and so many of the symptoms will only be noticeable when it may be too late.

Stress

Stress is a problem that can affect all working sectors, but it’s especially rife in the construction industry. There are a number of reasons why stress occurs, and most people will have experienced it many times before, but prolonged exposure to stress can take a real toll on a person’s health. Stress can lead to high blood pressure, headaches and general feelings or irritability, but it does not necessarily have to be part of the workplace. The health and safety at work regulations 1999, includes a section that ensures all workers are properly trained in dealing with stress. Strict enforcement of these guidelines will reduce stress-related problems.

Conclusion

There are many health hazards that can be found on a building site, all of which can cause a number of problems. While the appropriate steps may have been taken to prevent these from happening, this does not necessarily mean that accidents and illnesses will not occur, but the same can be said for just about any workplace. A few of the more common health problems associated with construction work have been briefly analysed, but this is just a small portion of known issues. However, there are more intrinsic risks in construction because the building trade is seen to be especially dangerous, and statistics back up this point.

Overall, a risk assessment plan should always be followed to the letter to minimise risks and health problems. If you feel that you match any of the criteria regarding health issues listed above it is advisable to seek medical attention immediately.

 

Image credits: Ell brown, garryknight and Ell brown