Exciting news! In just a few months we will be releasing free training materials!

In summary: I applied (and obtained) a grant through OSHA to produce training materials for the four major health hazards in construction. We are titling it, “Focus 4 Health Hazards for Construction”.  (similar to the Focus 4 Susan Harwood training materials available at OSHA)

Indented audience is for younger construction workers in hazard recognition of, 1. silica, 2. noise, 3. asbestos and 4. lead (pb) in construction. A short video (1-4 minutes) for each subject gives an introduction to the hazard. And, to follow up a training power point presentation (and short summary) will also be available to further instruct people in how to control and protect themselves.

On a personal level…it has been exhausting, and I’ve learned a lot!  From obtaining the grant, to hiring a videographer, filming, securing filming sites, and quarterly reports…. exhausting.  But, I’m confident you (and others) will enjoy it. Subscribe (via email) to keep updated. You can also follow me on instagram: “adventuresInIH”. (link coming)

grant filming

There are pieces of equipment used in construction which are VERY difficult to control their noise generation; open cabs of equipment, drilling machines, impact drivers/drills, and some mechanical devices are the first to come to mind.

Modifying equipment to control the noise is better than handing out ear plugs. But, before you modify the equipment, does your company have a “Buy Quiet” program? NIOSH & CPWR released some info graphics which can help start you down this road to considering noise levels when purchasing new equipment.

Before modifying equipment to control noise consider:

  • Does the manufacturer have a “factory approved” modification already available?
  • Are there any liability considerations if you make this change?
  • Have you discussed the modifications with:
    • The manufacturer? Engineers?
    • Operator?
    • Mechanics?
    • Scope of work?
  • How much noise reduction are you hoping to achieve?
    • remember noise is logarithmic, so a reduction of  1 dB is achieving a lot…
    • but not much practical difference in regards to operations
  • Measure noise before and after, both static and dynamic

noise engineering control

Instead of explaining how to calculate safe levels of chemical mixtures, this will be a reminder.

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) in their Threshold Limit Values (2014), has an excellent explanation of how to calculate a safe level of exposure. However, in summary, if separate chemicals have the same health effects (effect the body in the same way), they may do three things:

  1. Additivity – the sum of their exposure & health effect is A+B. More on this below.
  2. Synergy – the sum of their exposure is MORE than A+B. This is bad, and hard to calculate.
    • Similar in principle to smoking and asbestos. If you smoke and have asbestos exposure, you are worse than just the additive.
  3. Antagonism – the mixed chemicals cancel each other out. It usually never works this way.
    • But, as a terrible example, it would be like acid rain dissolving styrofoam. (I don’t think that’s true, BTW)

Back to Additive (Additivity):additive

If two chemicals (or more) in a mixture have similar health effects (central nervous system, or effect the kidneys, for example), then, until you know otherwise, you should assume they have additive effects. Have your favorite Industrial Hygienist use your air monitoring data to calculate the additive effects using the ACGIH Additive Mixture Formula.

This is useful for combining both full shift air monitoring data, short term, and ceiling exposures. Extreme caution should be used if the chemicals are carcinogenic (as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) is best here), or if they are complex mixtures (diesel exhaust).

It’s a bit confusing, but worthy of reminding ourselves of chemical mixtures.

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.



Can we measure an exposure accurately with just one sample? (statistically, no.) Also consider: Can we measure a “worst case” scenario and be OK for the rest of the project? (again, hypothetical question)

There was a blog post, here by Mike Jayjock, which reminded me of how silly our data points (aka industrial hygiene sample results) are in the big picture of statistics.  I’m slowly reading a book titled, “Control Banding” by David Zalk who is with Lawrence Livermore National Labs. The CDC also has a section on control banding here.

Another side of this is a common practice we all perform called Risk Analysis. There is much on the subject, but essentially it’s similar to triage at an emergency room. What is the easiest, best thing you can do: given what you have available and what you are able to muster?safety triangle

Too often (myself included) we perform air monitoring for a specific situation and use that information as the gospel-truth. Well, this might be like living in the United States and never traveling. We meet a very nice person from the Ukraine. They seem very typical Eastern European and have a thick accent, but are they really like everyone in Russia? Is this person typical? Are they exactly like every other person from Russia?

This type of stereotyping is the same as taking one sample and drawing conclusions about all exposures. You might be right, BUT…you might be wrong.

There is a fun app you can download called, IH DIG by Adam Geitgey (Apple & Android).  This app illustrates the importance of using statistical tools, rather than guessing. (It’s a game)

Sorry I do not have many answers in this post, just a lot of questions.

Let’s clarify: You are a working adult. You are feeling symptoms (of some sort). And, you think it’s from something your exposed to while at work (in construction). This could include, but will not, the flu-bug. Below is a list of the most common construction illnesses.

Most Common Construction Illnesses:

  1. Upper respiratory
    • could be from silica, drywall, dust, asbestos, nuisance dust, chemicals (I won’t even try to list all of them)
  2. Skin (dermal, dermatitis) damage –
    • From: concrete, abrasion, chemicals
  3. Eyes
    • mostly from things that get into the eye.
  4. Cumulative trauma (ergonomics) or inflammation
    • repetitive motion, over a day hurts, imagine this for years
  5. Burn (heat or chemicals)
    • Usually around hot work like welding, but this can occur when using certian chemicals
  6. Hearing loss
    • cumulative trama to the ears when exposure is above about 85 decibels for any extended period of time.
  7. Poisoning– General or systemic
    • From: poison ivy, stinging needles, dog bites, bees, etc.

This list may vary depending on many things including what type of construction you are in; GC, heavy, civil, specialty, etc.  I put this list together to get a picture of where we see illnesses. However, as previously mentioned, and, everyone knows, the FOCUS FOUR is really where most injuries occur in construction.

We have seen the most prevention of illness due to one single device:

back supportthe back support.   ha. just kidding, of course.

If you really have an indoor air quality and mold/fungus issue, it usually stems from moisture. I’ve talked about it before, here. The simplest answer is to find the water. Control the moisture and you inevitable will control the future indoor air quality concerns. Once you have found (and controlled) the water, then it is time to repair the damage and lingering water (which can’t evaporate).

The issue is: where does moisture come from? Well, it ‘can’ come from almost any direction:

EPA moisture control

  • from above (rain, roof vents, skylights)
  • from below (moisture in flooring, concrete)
  • walls (penetrations into the exterior, or windows and flashing)
  • out of thin air (relative humidity)

The EPA has written a new document titled, “Moisture Control Guidance for Building, Design, Construction and Maintenance“. As a contractor, how do you know when the clean up is too much to handle? I’ve written a bit more about it here.

The best time to clean up a moisture issue was yesterday, but the second best time to clean it up is today. Don’t let it sit, it usually doesn’t get any better.

I previously wrote about a worst-case scenario in which asbestos was not discovered till after it was disturbed.TSI asbestos

Recently I heard a story of the opposite:

A general contractor hired a company to remove various pieces of asbestos. They had obtained an asbestos building survey, which clearly stated where the  asbestos was located. A boiler with surrounding insulation was identified as non-asbestos containing (asbestos-free). The employee was using a bobcat to demolish the boiler. As he started to tear into the insulation surrounding the boiler (disturb it), he paused. He checked the building survey again, and it had clearly stated it was “asbestos free” (actually 5 samples had been taken of the insulation around the boiler). Then, he did what most other people would not do: HE REFUSED to demo the insulation. He told the General Contractor and owner he thought it was asbestos containing and wanted it tested, AGAIN.

Guess what they found? Yep. Asbestos WAS contained inside the insulation around the boiler.

There was obviously some break-down in communication with the report, inspector, and possibly the lab.  However, this employee is to be commended and, really, the safety culture at this company should be congratulated. You never know where you will find asbestos.  The employee had enough guts to speak up for his safety (and for the others).

Measuring good-safety behavior is the type of thing we should reward. In the past (and still today) many safety-people measure losses ( ie. how many injuries). This is backwards thinking. We should be rewarding good behavior and encouraging people to speak up for safety.

For example; what do you say to this guy?

scaffold ladder

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