Construction laborers may come in contact with many different hazardous chemicals and substances (e.g., silica, lead, asbestos and solvents) on the job. Chemicals and substances can affect the body via inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption and can come from materials used on site or those already present in the environment.
Impact of Chemical and Health Hazards
Exposure to hazardous chemicals and substances can cause a variety of potential health effects, ranging from minor skin irritation to serious chronic health conditions or even death due to acute or long-term exposure.
Addressing Chemical and Health Hazards
OSHA, NIOSH, ACGIH and other entities set occupational exposure limits (OELs) for many individual chemicals and substances that are known to be hazardous. Unfortunately, only OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs) are enforceable and many of OSHA PELs are outdated and do not adequately protect the safety and health of workers. When hazardous chemicals can’t be replaced, engineering controls should be used to reduce risk. Engineering controls such as exhaust ventilation, jets, ducts, hoods and separators draw fumes, mists, gasses and vapors away from the work area and improve ventilation. For hazardous dust and particles, controls include tools with integrated water delivery systems for cutting, chipping, drilling, sawing and grinding. Employers can also adjust work practices to limit exposure (e.g., working downwind, limiting task time, rotating responsibilities). Personal protective equipment, such as respirators, should be used only when engineering controls and work practices are not enough to reduce exposures to safe levels.
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