Recently the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) published results of its study of construction occupations and workers across 32 states regarding construction worker health.

For several years, there has been an OSHA Focus Four emphasis on physical safety (Falls, Electrocutions, Struck-By and Caught-In-Between).  However, at construction worksites, the focus on industrial hygiene in construction and worker health has consistently lagged behind. Besides Focus Four and equipment and tool safety, companies focus on zero injuries.  Health hazard exposures are just as common and can be harder to see because some may not arise until they become chronic.

As a result, AIHA has published a guidance document on a new Focus Four for Construction HEALTH Hazards including:

  1. Manual Material Handling
  2. Noise
  3. Air Contaminants
  4. High Temperatures

Manual Material Handling

Manual material handling is strenuous work that can cause overexertion. Repeated work day after day, vibration from tools and equipment or awkward positioning can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as back strains and sprains; arm and hand injuries; elbow and shoulder issues; and knee disorders. There are not many medical remedies for MSDs other than pain killers which can lead to opioid addictions.  Disabilities and early retirement can also arise.  MSDs are not cheap from a worker’s compensation perspective, taking 50% of all worker’s comp costs in construction.

AIHA says reducing these hazards will not only lower your costs, but help you retain your most experienced workers, help attract new employees, keep employees productive as they age and increase roles for women in the trades.


Exposures to noise can create either temporary or permanent hearing loss and other problems like tinnitus (ringing in the ears), sleep disturbance, impairment of balance, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. AIHA says a rule of thumb to use is that if you need to raise your voice to talk with someone an arm’s length away, the noise level will be over your 85 decibel limit. There are also many apps for your phone that can give an approximate noise level reading. Just remember these are not calibrated and can be off by several decibels. Those exposures at 85 decibels will cause damage over time, but construction tools and activities at 130-140 decibels will cause instant damage.

AIHA says hearing loss is the most common workplace illness in the U.S., and there is no cure for hearing loss or tinnitus.

Make sure you know what your noise exposures measurements are , know how to properly select and use hearing protection, communicate noise hazards, conduct hearing tests annually, train employees and include information about noise off the job. Better yet, find ways wherever possible to reduce noise exposures.

Air Contaminants

Air contaminants can include dusts, metal fumes, gases, vapors, solvents, and exhaust.    Odors are not always present, and those who “get used to the smell” may not know their overexposures to it.  For some contaminants, the fact that you can smell them means you’re already overexposed.

Contaminants can be inhaled or absorbed. Inhalation causes damage to the nose, throat and lungs causing damage and potential for asthma, breathing difficulties, lung scarring, COPD and lung cancer.  Absorption can cause blood, nervous system and organ damage.

This is another health hazard that may not be seen right away, but can arise later in an employee’s life, affecting quality of life.

This hazard can be reduced by pre-planning, determining:

  • Hazards of material to be used – what does the SDS say?
  • Amount used?
  • Duration used?
  • How will it be dispersed?
  • Confinement/enclosures used?
  • Controls used?
  • Ventilation and exhaust planned?
  • What PPE is needed?
  • Are respirators needed and do you have a proper respiratory protection program in place?
  • What are the occupational exposure limits allowed?

AIHA cautions that just because a task will be done for a short amount of time doesn’t lessen the hazard.

High Temperatures

Construction workers are susceptible to heat exposures due to the nature and location of their work.  Often things like PPE will add to the potential for problems.

Heat exposures play with the body’s ability to think clearly and act normally, so the worker may not speak up. That’s why it’s important for all workers, supervisors and foremen to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

Proper training and planning ahead will help prevent major issues.  Make sure you look at things like:

  • Heat index
  • Experience and acclimation of worker (new or temp workers?)
  • How much work will be in direct sun?
  • Confined spaces
  • Additional heat sources (radiant heat/welding)
  • Physical workload
  • PPE to be used
  • Insulation and heat shields
  • Ventilation
  • Work schedules
  • Hydration, shade and break areas

In Closing

Although this article focuses on the construction worker, there is a lot that general industry workplaces can learn from this information too.

For more information about the Focus Four Health Hazards, check out the AIHA guidance document.

iSi’s team of industrial hygienists can help you with these issues and take care of the workplace and employee sampling that’s needed in several of these hazards.  Contact us today with your questions or to get a price quote.

Worker & Area Sampling

Let iSi’s industrial hygiene team help you determine what your workplace exposures are. Contact us today!

Tami Hadley
Tami Hadley


Tami Hadley

Marketing Director | Project Manager, E-Training Solutions

Tami has been with iSi for over 24 years.  During this time, she has enjoyed helping promote regulations compliance awareness and education through her involvement with iSi Training and through leadership roles with industry conferences and professional organizations.

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