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Published: August, 2010; Vol 7, Num 3

 

Is There a Health Hazard at Your Worksite?

It is estimated that for every worker killed on the job by safety hazards such as falls and electrocution, ten workers are killed by health hazards caused by chemical exposures, some of which can lead to cancer.

The LHSFNA OSH Staff Will:

  • Assess present job safety and health programs
  • Make recommendations for job safety and health improvements
  • Provide a written report plus a conference
  • Assist in drafting the HHE request

While safety hazards are obvious and take center stage, what are you doing about these health hazards? Do you even know what health hazards are on your construction site? Since they are not so obvious and can be difficult to measure, you may need help.

A Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) from NIOSH can help you assess your workplace, and an evaluation from the LHSFNA’s OSH staff can facilitate the request. For more information about these services, contact the LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division at 202-628-5465.

The free HHE program was started by Congress to investigate potential problems in the workplace before workers get sick. A NIOSH team of scientists comes in, checks out the situation, takes samples and writes a detailed report with recommendations to control any potential problems.

NIOSH has investigated hundreds of complaints. One initiated by the LHSFNA concerned acute health effects caused by occupational exposure to crumb-rubber modified (CRM) asphalt. CRM contains rubber from waste tires, and eye, nose and throat irritations were being caused by the high level of heating required to dissolve it. Air samples taken by NIOSH found that chemical exposures were greater with CRM than conventional (CONV) asphalt. These results contributed to development of warm mix (WMA) asphalt, which does not require the same degree of high level heating. They also were impetus for a joint project of NIOSH, the LHSFNA and the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) that led to improved ventilation controls on paving machines.

Other HHE assessments of construction industry issues include carbon monoxide intoxication , silicosis exposure and lead exposure. In the aftermath of the BP oil spill, HHEs are being conducted in the Gulf region.

NIOSH performs an HHE at the request of employers, employees or employee representatives. Requests must be in writing and specify work areas and potential hazards that need evaluation.

Request an HHE from NIOSH If:

  • Employees have an illness from an unknown cause.
  • Employees are exposed to an agent or working condition that is not regulated by OSHA.
  • Employees experience adverse health effects from exposure to a regulated or unregulated agent or working condition, even though the permissible exposure limit is not being exceeded.
  • Medical or epidemiological investigations are needed to evaluate the hazard.
  • The incidence of a particular disease or injury is higher than expected in a group of employees.
  • The exposure is to a new or previously unrecognized hazard.
  • The hazard seems to result from the combined effects of several agents.

NIOSH usually responds within four to six weeks of receiving a request. Depending on the nature of the concern, NIOSH will respond in writing with appropriate information, arrange a telephone consultation or make an appointment to visit the worksite.

At the conclusion of the telephone consultation or the visit, NIOSH provides a verbal report followed up with one that is written and more detailed. Copies are sent to whoever made the initial request, the employer, employee representatives, OSHA and other appropriate agencies.

The employer is required to post the final report where it is accessible to all employees – an onsite office or break area – or provide names and addresses of affected employees to NIOSH so that copies can be mailed to them. HHEs are available in English and in Spanish and are also accessible by logging onto the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluations website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/hhe.  

HHE recommendations are just that, recommendations. Employers are under no obligation to implement what NIOSH suggests. However, an HHE facilitated by the LHSFNA makes it possible to address a problem before it becomes full-blown with injuries, illness and an investigation and possible fine from OSHA. Everyone wants safe and healthy workplaces. HHEs are roadmaps for achieving this goal.

 [Janet Lubman Rathner]