Respiratory Safety in Construction

Respiratory Safety Risks

According to the research done by Center to Protect Workers’ Rights (now known as Center for Construction Research and Training), Construction Workers:

  1. Are twice as likely to have chronic obstructive lung diseases than the rest of the population.
  2. Are more likely to have mesothelioma, and to have asbestosis, than the overall population.
  3. Have scarring in lung lining from asbestos exposures.
  4. Consistently inhale dust containing silica, asbestos and other harmful particles; welding fumes which contains heavy metals; and other toxic gases at a rate far above any other profession.

Thus, for a construction company, the health concerns of the workers and any other employees working on site should be the number one priority. On site there are uses of heavy machineries, power tools, hand tools, or industrial sprays. The Construction activities, use of the mentioned tools and the construction materials present are all sources of high-level respiratory hazards on a job site. In extreme cases, inhaling fumes and gases may even cause someone to be violently sick or in worst cases lead to death. With such high risks always being present on site it is obligatory for a company and also a requirement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to safeguard the Respiratory Health of the Workers.


Respiratory Hazards

There are Four main categories of Respiratory Hazards according to OSHA:

Gases, like Carbon Monoxide; Dusts, for example Lead Dusts from grinding, welding, cutting, or brazing surfaces coated with lead-based paint, Silica Dust from cutting concrete or sandblasting; Solvent Vapors or Fumes from adhesives, paints, cleaning solvents, and spray coatings and Mists.

Some of the Hazards can kill a person within minutes like Carbon Monoxide Gas in a Closed Chamber. While others like asbestos dust can cause lung cancer decades after it enters the respiratory system.


Respiratory Safety Trends

Several Workplace Practices are followed to protect the workers from the above-mentioned hazards. These include:

  1. Engineering Methods, which is the implementation of required Ventilation and Exhaust System especially in enclosed areas. These Systems should also take into account that the surrounding environment are not affected by discharge of these harmful gases, fumes or dusts out in the open.
  2. Work Practices, which is to bring about changes in work practices, like using wet-cutting techniques. This also includes the use of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like Masks, Respirators etc. According to OSHA there are different types of respirators according to the nature of construction works and thus the appropriate one should be selected.
  3. Administrative Controls which is proper and effective worker management so that the number of workers exposed to the hazards are minimized and the time duration each worker is exposed to the hazards are reduced too.

Workers exposed to respiratory hazards on a regular basis are required to wear proper protection. It is important to determine the hazard ratio and compare it to the Assigned Protection Factor (APF). The correct APF can be found from the OSHA guidelines. By adopting respiratory protection with an APF of 50 or higher, a construction company can be assured they are complying with OSHA standards and providing the best practice levels of protection for their workers.



While PPEs are essential to provide a safe and healthy environment for the workers, knowledge, awareness and trainings are also needed to reduce the harm and health risks on the construction work force. Concern of safety and welfare of workers also increases their morale and helps them to be comfortable on the Construction site, and thus the quality of their work improves.

To know more on this topic, you may also check out the video: Respiratory Protection in Construction: An Overview of Hazards & OSHA’s Program Requirements.

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