Construction is a high-risk industry for health issues. This article will analyse the key points about occupational diseases in construction industry and provide some ways to manage the occupational health issue in this industry. 

1. What are occupational diseases?

An occupational disease is a health problem or disorder induced by your work environment or activities related to your job (e.g., cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, post-traumatic stress, etc.). Occupational diseases are defined as health issues or disorders that occur more frequently than the general population among a group of people who have similar occupational exposures.

2. Significant occupational diseases in construction industry

The construction industry is regarded as the most dangerous field. Every year, there are many accidents resulting in illness, injury, and even death for labourers among the industrial sector. The statistics reveal that construction workers have to deal with a number of health issues.

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

2.1. Cancer

Construction workers have historically had a higher risk of developing cancer than any other industry group. The dangers of contracting one of these occupational diseases will persist unless the risks are adequately handled.

The most common cause of death among construction workers is asbestos. When asbestos fibres get airborne, they pose a threat to your health. This occurs when asbestos-containing material is chopped, drilled, or otherwise broken during building operations. Working on or near damaged asbestos can result in high quantities of asbestos fibres in the air. The overall quantity of these fibres you breathe is a major risk factor for getting an asbestos-related disease. Even little jobs, if done on a regular basis, can put you in danger.

occupational diseases
Workers need to wear PPE to prevent certain occupational diseases

After asbestos, silica is the second leading cause of death among construction workers. Silica is a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in varying amounts in rocks, sand, and clay. Construction materials such as bricks, tiles, concrete, and mortar all contain silica as a primary component. During many routine building operations such as cutting, drilling, grinding, and polishing, you produce dust from these components. Some of the dust is tiny enough to enter your lungs and cause irritation. The fine dust, known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS), is too tiny to see with ordinary lighting. Excessive and continuous RCS exposure can lead to lung cancer and other serious respiratory diseases.

Exposure to ultraviolet light and toxic chemicals can cause skin cancer. Working outside too long will cause a significant health issue to the workers. The UVR can result in the symptoms like crusty, form an ulcer, bleed and be painful. In the worst cases, it can cause serious cancer that can spread to other organs in the body and often proves fatal.

2.2. Hazardous substances

The substances on the construction sites are also factors affecting the health condition of labour. Construction work exposes workers to dust, chemicals, and potentially hazardous combinations. Some procedures release dusts, fumes, vapours, or gases into the air, which can cause breathing difficulties and lung disease. Dermatitis from skin exposure to hazardous substances is common in a number of construction-related industries. These are some factors of hazardous substances causing occupational diseases in construction.

Construction dust isn’t simply an annoyance; it’s also a serious health hazard. Absorbing construction dust regularly can lead to diseases like lung cancer, asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and silicosis. Because many frequent construction operations can result in high dust levels, construction workers are at a great risk of developing chronic diseases. These diseases can cause permanent incapacity and early death. 

Cement powder irritates the lungs as well. The dust created by cutting, drilling, and other activities using dried concrete and mortar can lead to more serious respiratory disease.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless toxic gas that can be created in large quantities while using gasoline-powered equipment or gas appliances. CO prevents oxygen from reaching your cells, tissues, and organs. CO poisoning symptoms might be mistaken for food poisoning, viral illnesses, flu, or simply weariness. They include drowsiness, headaches, shortness of breath, and nausea. CO levels can kill without warning in a matter of minutes.

what are the occupational diseases
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Source: FEMA

>> Read more: Hazardous Substances In Construction Sites

2.3. Physical health risks

One of the occupations with the greatest estimated prevalence of back injuries and upper limb problems is skilled construction and building trades. In the sector, manual handling is the most commonly reported cause of injuries lasting more than seven days. Construction also has one of the highest incidences of noise and vibration-related illness.

Noise can cause serious damage to your hearing ability. Regularly using or working near power tools such as concrete breakers, pokers, and compactors, sanders, grinders, disc cutters, hammer drills, chipping hammers, cartridge-operated equipment, scabblers, and needle guns puts workers at danger. Anyone who operates or works near heavy machinery is at risk.

 Vibration will be transmitted to your hands and arms when you use hand-held machinery. Excessive exposure can affect the nerves, blood vessels, muscles and joints of the hand, wrist and arm causing Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Construction workers are especially vulnerable due to the nature of their work and the tools they employ, such as concrete breakers, pokers, and compactors, sanders, grinders, and disc cutters, hammer drills, chipping hammers, chainsaws, scabblers, and needle guns. Those suffering from HAVS may have trouble performing tasks requiring fine or manipulative work, as well as performing common tasks such as attaching small buttons on clothing. This hand damage is mostly permanent.

3. How to manage the occupational health issue in constructions?

It’s critical that you understand how to manage the health and safety of your employees on the job. This will aid in the reduction of occupational diseases and the promotion of a more positive working environment.

3.1. Make safety a top priority

Above all things, the health, safety, and well-being of people should be prioritised. You owe it to your employees to keep them safe, so do everything you can to safeguard them.

Ensure that everyone has received the proper health and safety training, and that you have policies in place to limit hazards and risk. Costs and profits should always be emphasised. Safety improvements benefit both you and your employees: they result in fewer lost working days, happier and healthier employees, and higher production.

occupational health policy construction
Safety must be set as top priority on construction sites

3.2. Enforce the use of personal protective equipment

PPE for construction (personal protective equipment) is very essential in an environment that is as dangerous as construction sites. Wearing PPE can help to avoid unexpected injuries or it can limit the severity of the accidents.

Therefore, the employees must always wear PPE to protect their safety.

3.3. Conduct regular site and equipment inspections

The managers should regularly inspect the construction sites before and after each workday. This aims to identify any potential hazard on the site, so that we can avoid it from happening. In order to conduct an inspection, the inspectors need to address any safety concern that may be a risk for anyone working on the sites.

In conclusion, construction sites are hazardous environments that necessitate a series of risk-reduction measures. Both managers and workers should be aware of the potential risks on site as well as the impact of occupational diseases on their health. As a result, managing occupational diseases in construction industry is critical for ensuring the physical and mental well-being of your employees.