The so-called “Big Four” or “Fatal Four” construction site dangers—falls, electrical hazards, struck-by hazards, and caught-in/caught-between hazards—get plenty of attention, and rightly so. They’re responsible for the vast majority of construction worker injuries and deaths.
But The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) Construction Committee recently released a new report detailing four other overlooked safety concerns at construction sites. It’s Focus Four for Health: An Initiative to Address Four Major Construction Health Hazards, and it’s bringing some much-needed attention to common, serious risks faced by crews.
Unlike the “Big Four” health hazards, these problems tend to be chronic, with symptoms and complications developing slowly over time. That makes them less likely to be detected, or to be actively guarded against. That’s why it’s so important for construction workers and management to be educated about these risks and proactive about prevention.
Below are the four overlooked safety concerns at construction sites outlined in the report.
Manual Material Handling
This refers to the physically demanding labor that construction workers regularly undertake. It includes actions involving heavy, large, and/or awkwardly shaped objects like lifting and lowering, pushing and pulling, carrying, etc. It also includes working in stooped, bent, twisted, or otherwise unhealthy and unnatural postures and positions.
This work takes a real toll on soft tissue, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. It can cause acute injuries like strains, sprains, and tears, but it’s also likely to cause chronic pain or injuries down the line.
Workers and management should always be aware of how much weight is being carried, how far heavy or hard-to-handle loads are being hauled, whether the best assistive tools are on hand, how long is spent in awkward positions, and similar factors.
Crews are constantly exposed to continuing loud noise, and this leads to irreversible hearing loss over time. It can also cause tinnitus, a condition in which there’s a frequent or constant ringing in the ear.
We’ve previously written about the dangers and prevention of hearing loss in construction workers, so take a look at that blog post for more information on this topic.
Silica dust has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, particularly as OSHA rolled out stricter regulations. But there are many potentially harmful airborne contaminants that construction workers are regularly exposed to, such as carbon monoxide, wood dust, lead, potent chemicals, and others.
Tasks like cutting, sanding, drilling, and grinding often release toxins into the air. There’s also exhaust, gases, fumes, vapors, and other contaminants given off by equipment and materials.
While carbon monoxide and some other inhaled contaminants can cause immediate problems, most damage the lungs and respiratory tract slowly over time. This is why a focus on appropriate protective equipment and proper ventilation is a must. Duration and frequency of exposure, as well as quantity of contaminants, are also essential to take into account for scheduling purposes.
Dehydration, cramping, heatstroke, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and other high-temperature related illnesses and complications are common at construction sites. Obviously, the strenuous activity increases body temperature and sweating, and work is often performed in direct sunlight and in environments with no temperature controls.
We’ve previously written about the dangers and prevention of heat-related illnesses in construction workers, so take a look at that blog post for more information on this topic.