As construction business owners endeavor to protect workers from injuries on their worksites, sometimes their health can be overlooked in the name of preventing incidents, according to the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Construction Committee. However, “just as safety risks are controlled on construction sites, health risks can also be controlled,” according to guidance issued in August by the organization.
“Occupational illnesses can have a significant impact on construction workers and their families. These illnesses and resulting disorders can cut careers short, cause pain and disability, and cause premature death,” according to the report. “If you think of workplace injuries as the visible ‘tip of the iceberg’ for on-the-job hazards, then occupational illnesses represent the much larger—but hidden—hazard.”
Inspired by OSHA’s Focus Four program, which targets the top four construction safety hazards, AIHA identified the top four health hazards for construction workers.
Manual material handling. Carrying large or heavy objects and materials, and maintaining awkward postures, can lead to overexertion, the report noted, which can cause injuries to a worker’s soft tissues, muscles or tendons. A single incident might not be enough to cause pain, but repeated exertion over long periods of time can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), AIHA wrote.
MSDs associated with materials handling most commonly affect backs, shoulders, knees, hands and arms. While they can be as minor as a temporary sprain, they can also permanently injure workers and cause recurring problems.
Noise. Loud worksites can lead to permanent hearing loss, and some research shows high noise levels can lead to sleep disturbance, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression or poor balance, according to AIHA.
Hearing loss comes on slowly and may not be noticed right away, the paper pointed out. Noise levels above 85 decibels, a limit most construction equipment exceeds, can cause hearing loss. “Still, noise hazards tend to be overlooked on construction worksites: They are more often considered an annoyance or an obstacle to communication than an important health hazard,” AIHA wrote.