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How Construction Workers Can Safeguard Against Chemicals
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How Construction Workers Can Safeguard Against Chemicals

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Chemicals will be ever-present in construction work, whether it is a new building or the renovation and repair of an old one. There were 1.7 million workers who suffered from previous and new work-related illnesses in 2020/21, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Approximately 12,000 workers died due to lung disease from previous exposures at work.

The Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2015 put the duty of ensuring that worker health and safety is carried out is put on the client, as well as the principal designer and contractor. So, the duty to manage asbestos to prevent lung disease, mesothelioma, and control other chemicals fall to these duty holders.

What are the Hazardous Materials and Chemicals in Construction Work?

There are various types of chemicals and hazardous substances, but the key aspect to look out for is substances that could get into your body. Chemicals like caustic soda, paints, treatment chemicals for construction materials, concrete, additives for plaster, and flammable substances also increase the risk of chemical illnesses.

These substances take various forms:

  • Solid

These can be solid particles such as dust, fibres, and fumes generated by condensation, and smoke.

  • Liquid

Small droplets and sprays of any liquid substances, mist and aerosol.

  • Vapours

These are formed from solids and liquids.

  • Gases

Carbon monoxide, acetylene, propane, methane, carbon dioxide, and engine exhaust gases are commonplace.

Some of these harmful substances can exist in multiple forms at the same time, such as mists and vapours from sprays.

How are Workers Exposed to Chemicals and Dangerous Materials in Construction Work?

As hazardous substances can take various forms, workers can unknowingly get exposed to dangerous materials without knowing it. However, if they keep themselves protected and be more aware of potentially harmful substances, they can better protect themselves in everyday construction work.

The pathway for hazardous material to affect a worker has three primary routes to take.

  • Lungs

The lungs are linked to our circulatory system, so any hazardous substance we breathe in can be transferred to the blood, tissues, and other organs of our body.

  • Skin

Certain substances are directly harmful to the skin, causing burns, and dermatitis, and can even create pathways for harmful substances to enter the body through cuts and bruises.

  • Mouth

Smoking and even harmful substances in food and beverages can enter through the mouth and into the rest of the body. Food can be contaminated with harmful substances.

How Can Construction Workers Protect Themselves from Hazardous Substances?

Hazardous substances are a key risk in construction work, but that does not mean that risk is not preventable. At the very least, risk in construction work can be mitigated to reasonable degrees, and here are a few practices to do so.

Provide Training to Workers

Knowing how to do something is not the same as knowing how to do it right. Safety often requires taking extra steps and precautions to ensure safety, and that requires training. Specified training helps workers understand the materials they are working with, as well as the equipment and procedures they need to follow.

In addition, training also helps workers understand how to properly follow procedures so that accidents do not happen. Knowing how to use equipment and what to do in case of an emergency is a necessary step for every construction worker on the site to know.

Training also has to be provided for higher-level staff, such as supervisors, who often have to watch for potential risks and issues and conduct risk assessments, as well as safety checks beforehand. 

Plan for Emergencies

Dangers and risks are often underestimated, especially if enough risk control measures are in place which results in accidents happening less often. Workers can easily expect far less risk than is present and ease off on safety procedures.

Being prepared and having already planned for emergencies, however, can help reduce the negative aspects of this type of negligence. Not only does unprecedented damage delay and disrupt construction projects, but also poses a great risk to worker health and safety.

The construction industry is one of the most accident-prone sectors in the UK, which only make emergency preparedness even more important.

Ensure Proper Chemical Storage Procedures are Followed

Hazardous materials often need to be stored in specified containers and shelving that protects workers and prevents exposure. Paints, solvents, adhesives, and other materials need to be stored in proper storage cabinets and fire-resistant containers for flammable material.

Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Beyond the basic protective equipment, providing workers with proper PPE for the specific chemical and substances they have to deal with can help reduce injury and illness risks. PPE can include gloves, goggles, masks, and face shields, etc.

Minimise Use of Hazardous Materials When Possible

One of the most effective methods of reducing risk is to reduce risky work altogether or to use prefabs if they are adequate and according to the building, standards to reduce work at height. Alternative materials and processes to risky and harmful substances can help in preventing injuries and risk, without causing delays or issues in construction work.

Conclusion

Workers are often exposed to dangerous materials like asbestos during renovation work. They are responsible for several respiratory diseases and other illnesses. However, construction workers can still protect themselves from such illnesses if they are provided with proper safeguards. 

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