Chemical Exposures in Construction-August 2010

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety 

August 2010

IN THIS ISSUE: Chemical Exposures in Construction

The occupational health exposures of the construction industry differ from general industry in many ways.  The construction industry raises unique risks to workers because materials used in general industry may not be used in the same way as in construction, and certain chemicals may be used more frequently.  These hazards may include chemicals, biologicals, and physical agents such as ergonomic stressors, radiation, thermal stress, and noise.  

“Hazardous chemicals are the most common exposure in construction,” explains Gary R. Ticker, CIH, CSP, of OccuSafe, Inc. “Of special concern are worker exposures to silica, lead, hexavalent chromium, and asbestos.”

  • Silica:  Silica in the form of quartz, cristobalite, and trymidite, are natural products of rock and are found in sand and concrete. Operations of concern include jack hammering, rock drilling, abrasive blasting, concrete mixing, and  brick, concrete block and slab cutting.  All three forms of silica may become respirable-sized particles when workers chip, cut, drill, or grind objects that contain crystalline silica. Crystalline silica has been classified as a human lung carcinogen. Additionally, breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which, in severe cases, can be disabling, or even fatal.
  • Lead:  Demolition, remediation, and removal of structures can cause the greatest exposure to lead. Paint and other products that currently have been reformulated to be lead free, may have contained lead at the time of construction.  In new construction lead may be used in roofs, tanks, and electrical systems. Lead may be contained in some solders and lead paint may still be used in the construction of bridges, railways, ships, and other steel structures. Long term effects of lead exposure can damage the central nervous system, blood-forming, urinary, and reproductive systems. There is no sharp dividing line between rapidly developing acute effects of lead and chronic effects that take longer to develop. 
  • Asbestos: Even more so than lead, the use of asbestos in the United States has been greatly reduced. Most exposure in construction occurs in demolition, removal and remediation activities when workers disturb asbestos-containing materials. In addition to OSHA standards, almost all states have specific regulations and licensing requirements for the removal and disposal of asbestos. Inhalation can cause lung disease, but may not appear until after years of exposure. Asbestosis is caused by a build up of scar tissue in the lungs which can reduce lung capacity and may progress to disability and/or death.
  • Hexavalent Chromium:  Although of greater concern to general industry, exposure to hexavalent chromium can occur in construction. Hexavalent Chromium may be present in portland cement and may be present in fume created during welding on stainless steel or other chromium containing materials. Inhalation in high concentrations can cause irritation or damage to the respiratory tract and hexavalent chromium is considered to be a potential carcinogen.

It is important that all employers involved in construction recognize the significance of occupational health exposures. Whether asbestos, lead, silica, and hexavalent chromium or other factors are involved, effective programs are needed to recognize, evaluate, and control hazards.

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or (303) 219-6973 or visit us at

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

This newsletter is published monthly by OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc.   Feel free to forward it to friends and colleagues.

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