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Construction Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

There are so many different types of building construction performed daily throughout the world. Some constructions involve building high rise structures while others involve roadways and tunnels. Most people understand the inherent hazards and construction safety but what about the latent effects from solvent vapor and dust exposures.

Plans were drafted to renovate an existing airline terminal in order to provide more interior space for passenger arrivals and departures, administrative offices, customer service areas, and shops. Health and safety plans were developed to provide oversight of the entire construction project. As a result of budgetary cutbacks, the site health and safety officer was replaced by certified public accountant with no construction safety experience. No attempt was made to coordinate the construction work activities and evaluate the job hazards. Over time, site conditions began to deteriorate, which allowed both airline workers and passengers to be exposed to a variety of airborne and surface contaminants.

Five workers later testified that they became sick after only six months into the project. None of these workers had any prior medical history nor complained about any workplace conditions. These workers suffered from chronic headaches, skin and eye irritation, difficulty breathing, nose bleeds, diarrhea, feeling of tightness in the chest, wheezing, and a raspy voice with a classic "barking" cough. Other airline workers testified that their hands began to swell and became extremely irritated along with peeling and a burning sensation. Complaints made to the construction manager about the dust and vapors emanating from the construction work were ignored. Eventually four of the five airline workers became so ill that they were permanently disabled and one worker died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Workers removed asbestos pipe lagging; plumbing and related piping systems; heating, air conditioning, and ventilation system, fiberglass ceiling and gypsum wallboard, and terrazzo and concrete floors. Other workers welded, cut, and brazed metal components for the plumbing and HVAC system and jack hammered the concrete floors. Airline workers nearby often complained about the metal fumes and solvent vapors emanating from the epoxy resins while installing the new terrazzo floors. No local mechanical exhaust ventilation was used to control the dust, fume, and vapor exposures, even when removing the asbestos pipe insulation inside the ceiling cavity. A small amount of water was sprayed to control the dust exposure when cutting the concrete floor. Surface dust was observed on many of the surrounding building structures outside the construction barrier.

Retrospective analysis of the building materials and commercial products used during construction as well as evidence from limited industrial hygiene surveys revealed potential exposures to epichlorohydrin, glycidyl ether, polyamines like diethylenetriamine, triehtylenetetramine, acid anhydrides, and polybasic acids like phthalic anhydride. Calcium oxide in the concrete was related to the eye and skin irritation. Fiberglass was detected in the dust on many different building surfaces.

Within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, these affected airline workers and the general public were most likely exposed intermittently to a variety of chemical contaminants due to a lack of engineering and administrative controls and supervision on the jobsite. Early intervention by a qualified site health and safety officer along with better communication between the architect, construction manager, and contractors would have made a difference in the lives of these airline workers.

By The Windsor Consulting Group, Inc.
Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Consultants
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bernard L Fontaine, Jr., CIH, CSP, RPIH
Academic qualifications include: Ph.D candidate in Environmental Science (Suffield University, M.Sc. Industrial Hygiene (University of Oklahoma), B.Sc. Medical Laboratory Science and internship at Peter Bent Brigham hospital in Boston, MA. and mini-medical residency at Robert Wood Johnson hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

Over 32 years of professional experience in occupational and environmental health and safety. Certified industrial hygienist (CIH) with the American Board of Industrial Hygiene, certified safety professional (CSP) with the Board of Certified Safety Professional, registered professional industrial hygienist (RPIH) with Association of Professional Industrial Hygienists (APIH), and licensed to practice industrial hygiene in State of Illinois.

Copyright The Windsor Consulting Group, Inc.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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