Construction work can involve a number of hazardous substances. This article will provide more information about this issue and how the hazardous substances in construction sites affect our health and the environment.

1. What is a hazardous substance?

Any material with one or more inherently dangerous characteristics qualifies as a hazardous substance. This covers characteristics including flammability, explosiveness, toxicity, and oxidation potential.

Most health-hazardous compounds, which might come in a number of forms, are covered by the COSHH Regulations. Some of these substances are:

  • chemicals
  • products containing chemicals
  • fumes
  • dust
  • vapours
  • mists
  • nanotechnology
  • gases and asphyxiating gases
  • biological agents
  • germs that cause diseases

Besides, there are also hazardous substances not covered by COSHH but they are covered by their own unique set of regulations, which include: Asbestos, Lead, and Radioactive substances.

hazardous substances
Hazardous substances can be dangerous to health for longer periods of time

In general, those exposed to substances deemed “dangerous to health” for longer periods of time are often at higher risk than those exposed for shorter periods of time or to less hazardous compounds.

However, depending on the nature of their work, several professions could expose employees to dangerous substances. For instance, cleaning solutions like bleach and other solvents frequently expose workers to harmful compounds.

>>> Read more: Problems of Health and Safety in Construction

2. Typical hazardous substances in construction site

2.1. Asbestos

This is one of the common hazardous materials that can find on the construction site. Asbestos is used for its fire-proof qualities, insulating qualities, strength, and resiliency. However, because of its danger to health, asbestos is limited to being used. 

Both friable and non-friable asbestos can be easily ground into powder when dry. These definitions are found in federal rules, but rarely are renovations carried out under “hand pressure,” therefore friability of a material is not necessarily a cause for worry. Pipe wrap, vermiculite insulation in concrete blocks, and spray-on fireproofing are examples of friable materials. Floor tiles, sheet flooring, underlayment, mastics and adhesives, ceiling tiles, drywall, roofing, and sealants are examples of non-friable materials. Although non-friable asbestos removal may be less dangerous, both methods still call for trained, authorized contractors to carry out the operation, as well as possible air monitoring and post-abatement air clearance testing.

Workers in the construction industry may be exposed to asbestos while demolishing or repairing older structures constructed before 1980. The majority of these structures include asbestos insulation or other materials containing asbestos.

Asbestos is a known health risk and is heavily regulated. Even though asbestos is no longer used as insulation, asbestos exposure is still a possibility for construction or demolition workers.

2.2. Lead

Lead can be found in construction workplaces. It is commonly used as a specialist material (eg roof flashings) and present in older buildings (eg in paint or pipework). Older oil-based paints, pipe and solder, batteries, window putty, and colourants for plastics and ceramic glazes are among the products that commonly include lead.

Lead can cause serious health problems such as anaemia or kidney disease and published research has linked exposure to a small number of occupational cancers, and can even result in death. 

When you breathe in lead dust or fume, you can absorb lead into your body. If you eat, drink, smoke, or bite your nails while not cleaning your hands or face, for instance, you could ingest lead dust and dirt. Your blood will carry any lead that you ingest. Every time you use the restroom, your body excretes a small quantity of lead. However, an amount of lead will remain in your body and is primarily retained in your bones. You can have it there for a long time without getting sick.

Lead poisoning symptoms include headaches, fatigue, irritability, anaemia, and stomach pains. These symptoms will appear if the level of lead in your body rises too high. Long-term, unchecked exposure can result in more significant issues like kidney, nerve, and brain damage, as well as perhaps even cancer.

2.3. Solvents

The vapours from glue, solvents, paint thinner, and resins are common on construction sites. To reduce the danger, you should try to use these solvents less frequently on the job site. You should also use the appropriate PPE and a breathing mask while working in an area that is properly ventilated.

Your health may be influenced by different solvents in various ways. A high concentration of some solvents in the air might result in unconsciousness and even death. The short-term symptoms of solvent exposure can include eye, lung, and skin irritation as well as headaches, nausea, dizziness, or lightheadedness. Some of these consequences could also make you more likely to get into an accident. Repeated exposure to specific solvents can potentially have long-term impacts on your health. Dermatitis, liver, renal, and neurological conditions are a few examples.

>> Read more: Construction Fire Safety

2.4. Construction Dust

If you are not wearing the proper RPE when using a grinding or cutting instrument, you run the risk of hurting yourself. Working with abrasive wheels can produce dust that can be breathed and lead to respiratory issues. Regular exposure to construction dust increases your risk of developing potentially fatal conditions like lung cancer, silicosis, and asthma. Dust can also be produced by tearing down walls and mixing cement.

hazardous substances in construction site
Tiny dust in construction can be breathed and lead to respiratory issues

Each person who inhales these dusts should be aware of the harm they can inflict to the lungs and airways. While some lung conditions, such as advanced silicosis, might develop fast, the majority take a long period. This usually takes years. They take place because inhaling in even little amounts of dust on a regular basis throughout this time can harm the lungs and airways. Unfortunately, the damage is frequently already done and more harder to heal by the time you realize it.

To protect your health from these hazardous substances, wearing PPE at workplace is very essential.

>>> Read more: PPE for Construction: Importance and Classification

3. Impact of hazardous substances on the health and environment

Chemical exposure can have both acute and chronic health impacts. Some substances, like carbon monoxide, have both immediate and long-term impacts.

3.1. Acute Effects

These kinds of impacts happen quickly (within minutes or hours) or shortly after exposure. Some dangerous substances have the potential to cause death. Chemical exposure is often sudden, rapid, and high in concentration. For instance, if a worker is exposed to carbon monoxide, they can pass out, have a headache, or both.

3.2. Chronic Effects

Chronic effects typically manifest themselves following prolonged or repeated exposure to a hazardous substance. This prolonged exposure might occasionally last for several years. For instance, asbestos exposure over an extended period of time may cause lung cancer in a worker.

3.3. Environmental Effects

construction hazardous materials
Hazardous substances negatively impact on the health and environment

Hazardous substances not only have a bad influence on human being health but also on the surrounding environment. There is a lot of overlap between the two, and numerous dangerous compounds endanger both.

Each organisation must carefully evaluate how the use of hazardous substances in construction sites may affect its employees, the general public, animals, and the environment. These impacts can be reduced, and perhaps workers won’t have to cope with crippling health conditions in the future when safety regulations are observed and hazardous material is disposed of appropriately.