How does construction affect health?

Construction workers are exposed to many chemicals and other substances on the job that can harm their health. The hazards presented by some of them, such as asbestos, silica and lead, are well known. Some volatile chemicals, such as solvents, can be dangerous even if you can't smell them. The health effects that have been associated with buildings are very diverse.

Building-associated infections include Legionella and fungal infections. Other infectious agents, although not necessarily exclusive to building systems, may nevertheless be contained or disseminated by conditions within the building. For example, in at least one case, a type of tuberculosis has been shown to be released during the demolition of a building. The deliberate release of toxic or infectious agents into buildings as an act of terrorism is also a matter of concern.

Non-infectious lung effects include hypersensitivity pneumonitis and inhalation fevers. There is also great interest in understanding more about the possible non-infectious lung effects of mold exposure. In addition, there is a growing awareness of various irritation phenomena related to chemical, physical and biological exposures, and of the extent to which these irritation phenomena can play an important role in conditions such as reactive airway dysfunction syndrome (RADS). Building air treatment systems play a critical role in distribution and exposure to physical, chemical and biological agents.

Air handling systems can affect the amount of humidity in a building and, therefore, the prevalence of upper respiratory tract symptoms. Evidence suggests that irradiating heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit coils with ultraviolet (UV) light, even without cleaning them, can significantly reduce microbial load and resulting irritation symptoms. This has been verified in blind studies in which the occupants of the building did not know if the UV rays were on or off. She argued that construction health and safety personnel are often behind problems on busy, often distant, construction sites.

Fourth, night and shift work is not uncommon in the construction industry and these construction workers are at greater risk of deteriorating health status. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance and chair of the Construction Committee of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, believes the sentiment stems from exposure to vibrations that construction workers are subjected to. For the construction industry, a health screening is regularly offered to all construction workers in several countries. Despite ubiquitous levels of hazardous noise on construction sites, there is little data to quantify the noise exposure of construction workers and its associated risk of occupational hearing loss.

Lexi Smith
Lexi Smith

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