Common Respiratory Dangers on Construction Jobsites

Defective drywall

In the construction industry you rely on your body, so you know the importance of taking care of it the best you can. Glasses for your eyes, boots for your feet and gloves for your hands. But what are you doing to protect your lungs?

Two to watch out for
With every breath you take, there is the potential to ingest toxic mist, fumes and dust.

You are at high risk for developing a respiratory illness if you work as a:

  • Drywall finisher
  • Painter
  • Flooring expert (hard surface manufacture or install)
  • Mason
  • Demo remodeler
  • Concrete finisher

Crystalline silica and hexavalent chromium are two airborne particles you should be particularly mindful of in the workplace.

Crystalline Silica
Brick, concrete and drywall compound often contain elements of crystalline silica. Quartz, as it is also known, can be exceptionally dangerous when inhaled. Silicosis, an incurable lung disease, occurs gradually over time and can take 10-15 years for full symptoms.  Acute cases may develop over the course of several months.

Silica particles can irritate the lungs, causing damage that the body will attempt to repair with scar tissue. These fibroids reduce the lungs’ ability to absorb oxygen from the air, the result of which can be long-term disability or even death.Respiratory Dangers

Hexavalent Chromium
Chromium is often added to alloy steel to increase its resistance to corrosion.  It can also be found in paints, primers and other surface coatings. During industrial processes such as welding, hexavalent chromium, a chromium derivative, is released into the air and inhaled.

Continuous and repeated exposure is thought to adversely affect the respiratory pathway and cause lung cancer. Damage can manifest itself in the form of sores, nosebleeds, tissue perforation and lung irritation.

Those allergic to hexavalent chromium are likely to experience asthma-like symptoms in response to exposure.

Combatting Respiratory Dangers

Plan ahead
Consider focusing one of your risk management programs on respiratory protection. Engineering your way around common respiratory dangers is far more practical than removing workers form the jobsite.

Exhaust ventilation systems, HEPA vacuums, and procedural changes (like wet cutting vs. dry cutting in masonry) can help to reduce the risk of airborne particle inhalation.

Cover your mouth
For respiratory concerns that cannot be engineered out, consider investing in a respiratory system (e.g. ventilator) that is certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

A basic dust mask can also be beneficial in the fight against particle inhalants provided it is used in the appropriate manner. That means maintaining the integrity of the seal. Keep your face clean-shaven and be sure to secure the mask with two straps.

Tips for keeping your employees safe

  1. Educate your employees on the importance of respiratory safety in the presence of airborne particles.
  2. A respirator keeps more than just harmful particulate matter out; it also reduces the user’s oxygen intake.  Employees with high blood pressure or known heart conditions should be assigned to different tasks.
  3. Enforce a rotating schedule that does not continuously expose any one worker to respiratory hazards.

Contact Sadler & Company for more information on our Contractors Insurance!

Sources: Knowledge Builder: Common Respiratory Dangers on Construction Jobsites; Builders Mutual; Oct 2013.
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