Over the past few years significant strides have been made in reducing the rate of worker injuries in the construction industry.
Despite these efforts, it remains a high-risk sector and accounts for a large portion of fatal and serious injuries. One aspect that receives less recognition is that the construction industry is high-risk when it comes to health issues as well.
It’s a tough, heavy manual industry where both injury and ill-health are likely, many workers having to leave or retire early precisely because they have developed health problems that hinder their ability to continue.
We need to keep in mind that right now we are confronted with the issue of an aging population with predictions that by the year 2050 half the workforce will be 50 or older which makes it important that construction workers be able to remain at their jobs for as long as they wish.
This isn’t just for financial reasons, it has also been proven that remaining in work has a positive effect on mental health, providing a sense of purpose and helping people maintain broader social networks.
Having said that, construction workers have to perform their tasks in dirty, noisy environments involving heavy lifting, repetitive movements and uncomfortable cramped position for extended periods of time.
Research suggests that they’re at higher risk of developing not just musculoskeletal disorders, but also noise-induced hearing loss and respiratory diseases at faster rates than their white collar counterparts.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)
This may not be the first health risk that comes to mind, but construction sites are very noisy work places even when all precaution are taken.
Hearing loss may be so gradual that the workers don’t even realize something is wrong. However, regular exposure to elevated noise levels (over 85 dBA) can lead to tinnitus and irreversible hearing impairment.
This is bad news since most of the equipment used by construction workers generates noise above the 85 dBA threshold.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) 31% of construction workers exposed to high levels of noise report not wearing hearing protection, 14% of them have hearing difficulty, 7% tinnitus and 25 % hearing impairment that affects their daily activities with 16% of tested workers having impairment in both ears.
According to the experts at JNY Law, employers are legally responsible for protecting workers from these excessive levels of noise and, where an acceptable level of noise cannot be reached through other controls, hearing protection needs to be provided.
Ear defenders should be carefully selected and the workers need to be adequately trained to use this equipment.
Occupational conditions encountered by workers in the construction sector can lead to many forms of lung disease.
For instance, exposure to fine particles of crystalline silica and asbestos can cause interstitial lung disease which results in lung tissue damage and fibrosis (silicosis or asbestosis), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
It can also induce or worsen asthma.
According to data from the Health and Retirement Study the percentage of respiratory cancer-related deaths among workers whose longest job was in the construction sector was almost double that of white-collar worker – 14.6% compared to 8.3%.
They’re also more likely to die from diseases of the respiratory system – 13.4% compared to 8.9%.
Adjustments were made to account for smoking and other potential co-founders and the data suggests that construction workers are around twice as likely to die of non-malignant respiratory diseases or respiratory cancer as white collar workers which may be attributed to long-term occupational exposure.