Construction work can involve numerous hazardous substances. These substances/chemicals present on the work sites may result in potential harm to the health and safety of the workers.
According to an estimate, an average of 61,000 non-fatal injuries were reported in the construction sector across a three-year period, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
These injuries or ill health cases led to nearly 38.8 million working days lost among the staff and workers, resulting in millions in financial losses for construction companies and workplaces.
The major sources behind these construction incidents are slips and trips, stress, manual handling, falling objects, working at height, and above all mishandling or misuse of hazardous chemicals and materials.
To be ahead of the legislation and protect the workforce from unpleasant incidents, employers are required to control and manage these chemical hazards and injuries. This content piece will cover in detail how to do so.
Common Chemicals Used in Construction Workplaces
There are different types of hazards that construction workers can be exposed to in a day-to-day operation.
These include pesticides, fuels, mechanical oils, and lubricants. But the major hazards that produce significant health risks to construction workers are:
1. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PVC is commonly used in construction to coat pipes and electrical wirings that act as an insulator. It can cause harm when PVC begins to break down which contains ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride, and dioxin.
Long-term exposure to polyvinyl chloride or dioxin tends to contribute to the following health conditions:
- Birth defects
- Endocrine disruption
- Neurological damage
These conditions might develop over time but can cause severe effects on an individual and in worse cases death.
Mercury is a well-known chemical used in many workplaces including construction worksites. It can be easily absorbed into the body via the nose, eyes, mouth, or skin, but is one of the most difficult chemicals to remove once exposed to it.
It can lead to nervous system impairment, impaired vision, damage to the kidney, or other severe health effects.
Lead has been seen to be more hazardous than any other chemical substance even if exposure is relatively low. When used in construction workplaces it can lead to severe health effects including cancer, hypertension, heart risks, or kidney disease.
How are Construction Workers Exposed to the Hazardous Risk?
Chemical materials and hazardous substances are commonly seen in manufacturing industries but can often be overlooked on construction sites.
However, unknowingly, construction workers handle, use, and work with hazardous materials on and off at work.
The labor employed in demolition or renovation projects may be at a high risk of asbestos exposure which can result in respiratory issues as well as lung cancer.
Alongside this, other chemical substances or materials like concrete, paints, solvents, or flammable substances can also result in mild to severe injuries. These flammable liquids and gases used every day at work may result in fires and explosions which can result in life-threatening harm to the property and lives.
Ways to Prevent Chemical Hazards & Injuries in Construction
The nature of the harm or risk to health and safety if not eliminated, can be minimized by implementing the following ways to handle and use these hazardous substances at work:
1. Ensure Proper Chemical Storage
Storing the chemical substances safely and securely can help minimize half the problem. The use of lockable chemical storage is also effective to mitigate the risk. Proper storage also ensures fewer chances of chemical spills, fires, explosions, or contamination.
2. Provide the Necessary Training & Guidance
Proper guidance and training to use chemical substances safely also go hand in hand when it comes to implementing best practices to eradicate the danger. Construction workers need to be fully aware of any health risks that can cause them serious injury or fatality.
Employers and managers must arrange proper training sessions for them which include COSHH training, hazardous substances risk assessment, chemical spill training, asbestos awareness training, or hazardous dust training.
3. Provide the Correct Personal Protective Equipment
The use right work equipment in the workplace is also a proactive approach to minimize the risk, which can lead to injuries or even fatalities if left neglected. Proper coveralls, eye protection, and hand and feet equipment can help prevent various skin or lung diseases.
4. Limit the Use of Hazardous Substances
When possible, it is recommended to properly plan the work process and decide if the use of hazardous substances or chemicals can be reduced. Minimizing the use of soldering, welding, or hot works or minimizing the use of processes that emit harmful gasses are some of the ways to control and manage the risk.
Chemical hazards could arise in any work environment without any warning. Construction work sites are also one of them where the risk of chemical exposure is high. Those in managerial roles need to have protective measures along with the right guidance for their workers to control the risk and work safely.