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?

It is officially summer and construction road crews & roofing is in full swing. Some projects require the use and application of coal tar pitch. Not only is it stinky, it is is hazardous.

Here’s some info:

  • Uses
    • Roofing
    • Asphalt seal coating
    • Pharmaceutical treatment for psoriasis (scalp/skin condition)
    • Graphite industry (in the production of graphite)
  • General
    • Coal tar pitch is actually a make-up of a bunch of different substances (maybe even 10,000 of them)
    • Contains lots of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other chemicals including: benzene, pyrene, benzo(a)pyrene, phenanthrene, anthracene
  • Exposure
    • can be exposed by inhalation, ingestion (is this likely?), or exposure to skin, eyes
    • considered a carcinogen if the product contains more than 5% of coal tar
    • cancers include: skin, scrotal, lungs, bladder, kidney & digestive
    • increases your sensitivity to sunlight (easier to sunburn)
  • Safety
    • Pick a sealant/coating that does not contain coal tar. A list of some can be found here.
    • Avoid inhalation & skin/eye contact
    • Train your employees. A sample safety SDS (MSDS) can be found here.
    • Wear the correct PPE.
    • Air sample to determine exposures. OSHA has a method (58).
  • Resources


This type of potential exposure usually doesn’t cross my mind. Luckily, the specifications in the construction project (and the obvious towers nearby), alerted us to the hazard.

If employees are working near areas of potential high electromagnetic (EM) activity, you should do something (see below). High EM potential areas are power lines, cellular towers, TV/Radio broadcast sites, etc. We have all heard the dangers of living under high voltage power lines, and this is essentially the same concern: Non-ionizing radiation.

The FCC has a guidance document OET-65 (radio frequency) which has some recommended limits, called maximum permissible exposures (MPE). These limits vary depending on the frequency range and how close/what type of work you are doing nearby. OSHA (1910.97) has some guidance (based upon an old ANSI standard) and the ACGIH also has recommended limits. New research is ongoing due to the increased use, and the future demand, of cell phones. The clearest guidance is from IEEE (C95 radio frequency). They provide recommendations and a sample plan. But, to summarize:

  • look for the source (s) of the radiation (sometimes it’s not obvious)
  • take measurements (might be difficult, unless you have access to a field intensity meter) Ask the FCC?
  • determine risk potential
  • make a plan
    • develop controls – time & distance are easiest radio tower
    • consider off-hours/ shut down of towers (in extreme cases)
  • train
  • consider:
    • cranes, large pieces of equipment that may resonate with a certain frequency
    • heat from stored energy
    • nondescript symptoms, which is usually the first sign of a problem

This is a somewhat new field (no pun). But, remember when power lines, cell towers, and tv/radio stations were installed. – The goal wasn’t to keep these away from people, it was to bring them closer. How close should we get? I’d love to hear if anyone has been dealing with this a lot in construction.