Admin Controls

I live in a moderate climate, but we had some 102 degree weather and it reminded me of how important it is to have a heat stress program and educate our workers.

Here are some tips and suggestions for keeping this hazard under control:

  • Mandatory rest/water breaks (time between work & break dependent on heat) in shade
  • Monitor/measure water consumption (& urine, if extreme)
  • Educate employees on symptoms and factors which might contribute (medications, were you drinking last night?= deydration)
  • Always work with a partner
  • Flexible work schedule (start early, leave when conditions get unbearable)
  • Increase ventilation
  • Consider the space (attics can be worse than conditions outside)
  • Provide easy access to emergency services
  • One of the coolest (pun intended) ways is a “smart” vest with a downloadable app – workers wear this safety vest and it will alert people when symptoms/conditions get bad (heart rate, temperature, etc). Developed in Australia by RMIT University in Melbourne.



Sound Level Readings Apps

You’ve probably already seen the sound level apps available on various models of phones and devices. Overall, I’d say they are, “OK“. I would say they’re, “great“, but since I am in a technical field, they actually aren’t that accurate when you figure the amount of error. However, when I consider who might use these: people in the field, I actually think they are, “AWESOME“. It provides an excellent educational tool and a relative-guess as to the noise levels in field conditions. A reading of 95 dBA on your smartphone app, even if it is “inaccurate” isn’t going to be that far off from my certified and calibrated Class II sound level meter. In other words, it will get you close-enough information.

Audiometric Testing Apps

BUT, have you seen the new hearing audiometric testing apps?!  I’m not too sure about these yet. Check out safety awakenings review of these new apps. These are only available on i-devices (ipad, iphone), but their price is worth a look (free & $2.99). The major downside is that these are NOT OSHA approved, so I suppose you would use it as a screening device.  And, in some US states, you must go through specific training to be able to administer the test.

However, there is an “OSHA approved” (I’ve been told, verify yourself please) ipad self-administered audiometric test called, ShoeBox Audiometry, from Canada. They claim their earphones are Class II devices, but you must send these in yearly for recalibration. The portability of this device would be a huge benefit.

Remember to research these on your own before making a decision. Anyone plan on buying audiometric testing equipment for their employees? Or using them now? I’d love to hear your comments.

Old School Portable:


If you are in the United States, you have probably been hearing issues with lead (Pb) exposures. The main focus lately has been in Flint, Michigan and their (new) source of water, which contains high levels of the metal. Wiki here.

So, who is to blame?

The NY Times suggests we should blame HUD for the millions of pounds of lead in paint. However, I’m not so sure we can cast all of the blame on them, the legislators, or manufactures. But, we are going to be dealing with lead exposures in the future.

I do not know the depth and extent to which lead poisoning is occurring throughout the US. I’m not sure anyone really does. But, there are MANY sources of lead exposure. For example: leaded gasoline (tetraethyl lead) was used in the past, aviation fuel (av gas low lead) still is, lead in paint, lead in copper pipe solder, lead in fishing weights, lead in ammo, lead in sheet rock, lead in Chineese toys…I could go on.

Bottom line though, if you (or your kids) have elevated lead levels,…there is a source. So, What To Do? Here’s my takeaways:

  • Test you & your kids for their blood lead levels.
    • It is a very established method, but isn’t an exact science. Don’t freak out if they are above “background” levels. Just do what you can.
    • The CDC recently lowered their recommended blood lead threshold to 5 ug/dl of blood.
    • Don’t do chelation therapy, unless the blood lead level is REALLY high. How high? I’m not a doctor.
    • DO eat lots of vegetables and fruit. These have found to lower lead levels the best (but maybe not the fastest).
  • Find the source.
    • Keep looking, there might be more than one. School, work, hobbies, nearby businesses, daily activities.
    • Measure: dirt, water, paint, your workplace.
    • Consider how small an amount is dangerous. 5 micrograms in 1 deciliter of blood. 5 micrograms is 5 millionth of a gram. A fruit fly weighs about 200 micrograms. So, cut a fruit fly into 200 pieces, take 5 of them…you get the idea.
  • Tell others.
    • Recommend that others investigate for themselves.

lead paint

Question: During mixing of portland cement bags of material (or similar types), am I overexposed?

Maybe, likely. But, probably not to silica. Most manmade, off the shelf products do not contain free-silica, or respirable fraction of the dangerous parts of silica. However, there is overexposure to respirable and total dust. But, be forewarned, if the product has rocks in the material, these may contain silica and if you cut the cured product- you can release respirable silica.

So, best practice is to:

  • Use a product without silica (look for the warning on the SDS/MSDS, or bag)
  • Eliminate any visible dust by water control methods (misting) or use local exhaust ventilation
  • Don’t be dumb; stay upwind. Or, at least do the mixing away from others
  • Wear a respirator

mixing cement

**You really do not know which respirator to wear unless you have performed airborne exposure monitoring**

I’m still startled by how many construction companies have not started a hearing conservation program. However, I do know why: we don’t see a lot of worker’s compensation claims from this injury (we still see them, but not in the numbers we think we should).

Recently I was asked this question: My company is strictly a general contractor. We do not have field employees, only Superintendents, Estimators, Project Managers, Project Engineers, etc. Do we need a hearing program?

Here’s why I think you should start a hearing program:

Start one for risk prevention, maybe not for overexposure to noise.
Most hearing loss claims are around $20k, and the cost of a program is about $15/year/employee. And, in some states, if you are the last injurious employer, you have to prove you WEREN’T the cause of the loss. (So, do noise monitoring/dosimetry semi frequently)

Other reasons:
it set’s a good example for your subs – when your subcontractor is making noise, it’s hard to tell them they need to start a program when you don’t have one at your company.  Call it ‘credibility’.

you can roll it into your company’s total worker health (TWH) / health promotion/ wellness program – even if you aren’t required to have it. Wouldn’t it be nice if your company took steps to make sure you still have your hearing?

if you’re checking their hearing; and they have losses, you can intervene – this might be a big one for construction employees. How many construction workers have noisy tasks? Shooting, hunting, motorcycles, concerts, cutting wood, drag racing, mow their lawn? They may have hearing loss outside of work. If you’re monitoring their hearing, you can maybe influence their behavior while doing these activities.


Obviously starting a program can take time to manage, but there are mobile units which can provide most of the work. And, if you have a workforce above 50-70 employees, it might even make sense to purchase your own booth.

noisy job

Sorry for the delay in writing. I have had some personal and professional projects taking a lot of my spare time. I have been preparing to present at a couple local conferences on Industrial Hygiene in Construction. It is a good exercise for me to ponder what I should say to these audiences. Here are some takeaways:


My latest guess (subject to change, by even tomorrow) is the Federal OSHA rule for silica will be enacted.

“Why”, you say? …well:

  • Current administration would love to push it through
  • Yes. It’s still an issue in the construction world. Have you driven by a construction site lately?
  • Federal OSHA is also talking about updating the PELs…and this one (silica) is an easy one
  • When?  No idea.

Falls in Construction:

This one is huge. In a bad way. If you look at what kills the most in construction, it’s falls (inclusive of scaffolding, ladders, fall protection, etc.) They cost a lot too. Not just in the number of people killed, but the claims & recovery cost are high. And, near misses in construction are VERY common. For example, just two weeks ago: An 18 year old roofer apprentice was working on a roof.  He stepped onto a piece of drywall and would have fallen to a concrete slab 25 feet below. Luckily someone had moved a piece of equipment directly under where he fell. He only fell four feet and had no injuries.

Hierarchy of Controls:

Is anyone working with these anymore? Just kidding, sort of. But, we can do a better job in construction of:

  1. Engineering Controls first. Can we eliminate this hazard? Has anyone asked to substitute this product for a safer one?
  2. Administrative Controls second. There are ways and methods which we do things in construction. These are usually passed down from journeyman to apprentice. Overall, this is awesome. For example, we need to rethink why we place the rebar on the ground? Can we use saw horses? Better material handling would save a lot of injuries.
  3. PPE third. And as a last resort.

Personal Protective Equipment:

Oh boy. There is a lot of room for improvement here. The wrong equipment, worn incorrectly, not used enough, and damaged. I don’t have the answer for this, except we should create and encourage the best safety culture possible.  I think this helps construction to take pride in their work, and their (and their friend’s) safety.

I am ashamed I have not written on this topic yet. In fact, this issue is so close to me, it bewilders me why I never connected it to occupational exposures. It’s even a carcinogen, and I try to get as much of it as I can when it is around.

To summarize my personal examples:

  • My dad has skin cancer on his ears and annually has these removed.
  • My next door neighbor died in 2009 from skin cancer (metastasized). He was a county construction worker for 35+ years and was in the sun, with his shirt off. A LOT.

More recently:

There are some chemicals and foods, when taken/exposed, actually make you more sensitive to the suns UV exposure (aka: photosentisizer). A list can be found here. Some of them are:

  • foods: carrots, dill, clover, eggs
  • medicine: antibiotics, diuretics, high blood pressure
  • chemicals: coal tar (creosote), benzene, xylene
  • cosmetics

And, if you haven’t noticed, construction workers get a lot of sun exposure, especially in the summer. Don’t forget, welders can have high exposures, and our heavy highway (road paving) crews are exposed to coal tar pitch. We talk about heat stress, but we should talk about the long term effects of skin damage.

There are no specific OSHA regulations on UV exposure. However, there are some guidelines from the ACGIH. There might be an instance where we can work within our “hierarchy of controls” and and eliminate the exposure to the employee. However, with this hazard, rather than working on eliminating the hazard, I would recommend we provide PPE.

Do you provide sunscreen to your employees?

This topic is not industrial hygiene specific. However, it is a construction safety/cost issue. A lot of contractors do a poor  job at modified duty (light duty) for injured employees. There are a few reasons for this:

  • temporary worker (disposable employee)
  • no “light duty” for the hard work needing done
  • the superintendent doesn’t want them back
    • doesn’t like him
    • can find someone else to do job
    • job is over

One of the best methods to reduce your return to work costs (aka workers compensation costs) is to return employees back to (some kind of) work as soon as possible. Keeping these injured employees on the project where the superintendent was responsible not only impact’s their projects bottom line, it reminds them of the injured employee.

Here is a list of some light duty jobs from Safety Awakenings.

Also, psychologically, how do you treat your injured employees? I have a brother, when younger, who would cry over a little tiny scrape. However, when he was actually hurt, he would firm-up, not shed a tear, and act as tough as possible. Employees are no different. Their reaction really varies, and your response might also need to change. There is probably not a one-size fits-all approach, but being professional is a good start.

Do you:

  • Shame them (make fun of them because of their injury?)
  • Encourage their injury (baby those who get hurt?)
  • Highlight it (bring it up in meetings?)
  • Discourage the behavior? or the act of unsafe behavior?

As you know, sometimes it’s hard to find light duty in construction.mixing1

This question gets asked a lot, and in many different ways. Such as:asbestos iron

  • Will I get hurt if I touch asbestos? (aka: How long can I be exposed?)
  • What if I have done siding removal/cutting pipe/removed TSI (etc) on an asbestos containing product, am I safe?
  • If I am only doing going to do touch asbestos for 20 minutes (or ___ time), will I still be in compliance?
  • I am disturbing less than 3 square feet of asbestos, I can do this legally, right?

The answer is:   it depends.

Or, an alternative answer: if you think you are disturbing asbestos; you’d better verify (by performing an air sample).

Nowadays there is no excuse for exposing employees, tenants, neighbors to asbestos. And, really, if you are working with asbestos, you need to be extra diligent to inform everyone about the hazard. The worst situation isn’t from a single exposure to asbestos, or an OSHA fine. The worst situation is this:  when you don’t pre-plan, and then verify your exposure levels. Because, someone will make up a worst case scenario, and at that point, you are already behind.



Noise has some interesting health effects. Most people assume the worst that can happen is you will lose part of your hearing. However, a recent (March, 2014) study in Injury Prevention by Girard,, concluded that those employees exposed to loud noise (above 100dBA) were admitted to hospitals more frequently, and at risk for other injuries.

Some other known health effects include (from Medscape & WHO):haul truck toy

  • fatigue
  • impaired concentration
  • behavioral changes
  • irritation
  • impaired academic performance
  • interrupted sleep (during sleep times)
  • changes in endocrine & autonomic nervous systems
  • increase in heart rate, blood pressure, vasoconstriction
  • sexual impotence
  • neurosis
  • hysteria

Noise is a simple subject, but there are many factors which influence noise exposure to individuals. Some include:

  • The individual: age, prior exposure
  • The noise: loudness (dB), type of noise (Hz), distance from noise
  • Time: exposure vs. non-exposure time per day

More information on how to control this hazard in construction can be found here.

And, as a bonus, the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America has published a review of the top Smartphone Sound Measurement Apps..  The winner (most accurate) was SPLnFFT, at only $3.99. A close runner up was SoundMeter by Faber. Another summary review is here, and here.

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