New Focus Four Approach Seeks to Reduce Construction Health Hazards

Industrial / Construction, Safety News

Most construction projects incorporate programs to prevent workplace injuries, and workplace safety is recognized as an important part of every project. But common construction-site health hazards, such as noise and air contaminants don’t get as much attention, even though long-term effects of these hazards can be quite significant to both workers and businesses. The good news: Construction health hazards can be effectively controlled, just as safety risks can, with a new Focus Four approach.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association® (AIHA®) recently developed a booklet, “Focus Four for Health: An Initiative to Address Four Major Construction Health Hazards” to raise awareness and provide practical steps that can be taken to control the top four health hazards.

“Unfortunately, health hazards, such as noise or air contaminants, are common in construction. When health problems occur, they can cut careers short, cause pain and disability, and even cause premature death,” said Matt Gillen, team leader for the Focus Four for Health project.

The Top Four Construction Health Hazards

The new publication provides a one-stop, easy-to-use booklet that can help employers work toward better on-the-job health. It spotlights four common construction health hazards:

  1. Manual material handing: Overexertion during lifting, pulling, pushing and carrying are the top causes of work-related musculoskeletal disorders — which account for about a third of all work-related injuries in construction and about half of all workers’ compensation costs.
  2. Noise: High noise levels can cause hearing loss and tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears). Recent findings also suggest links to sleep disturbance, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression and impairment of balance. In a 2011 study, almost three-quarters of construction workers were found to have been exposed to noise levels above the recommended exposure limit set by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  3. Air contaminants: Dusts, fumes, vapors and gases can cause a variety of short- and long-term health effects, ranging from asthma and irritation to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, nervous system problems, kidney damage or even cancer, depending on the material and extent of exposure. More than half of construction workers report being regularly exposed to vapors, gas, dust or fumes twice a week or more at work. The risk for developing an occupation-related disease after a working lifetime in construction is two to six times greater than for non-construction workers.
  4. High temperatures: Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It can cause death or permanent disability if not treated quickly. Heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps and heat rash are other concerns. North American summers during the past decade have ranked among the hottest on record. An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) study of 20 heat illness cases involving 13 deaths found that four occurred on the first day of the job.

Key Focus Four for Health messages for construction contractors are:

  • Health hazards can have significant impacts on workers and businesses
  • Efforts to reduce health hazards typically lag behind those for safety hazards on many construction worksites
  • Health hazards can be effectively controlled

The publication dovetails with the construction industry’s long-running Focus Four program that targets the top four fatal injury hazards. It employs similar and familiar safety strategies, such as pre-job planning and job safety analyses, to guide employers to successfully address the four health hazards. OSHA developed the Focus Four initiative in 1994 to target the top four safety hazards in construction: falls from heights; electrocution; crushing injuries and being struck by material or equipment. OSHA tailored its construction inspections to focus on these four hazards.

Construction Health Resources: