Health Hazards in Construction

Health Hazards in the Construction Industry

Fast facts:

• Asbestos is the biggest killer in the workplace
• With noise damage to the ear, it may take many years for the symptoms to appear
• Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) can cause permanent damage
• Repetitive work is one of the major causes of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)
• Reaction of the skin to any irritant varies from one individual to another

The occupational health hazards in the construction industry can be broken down into six categories: asbestos-related diseases, silica-related diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, hand-arm vibration syndrome, musculoskeletal disorders and dermatitis. We will go into all six of these in a little more detail within this blog.

Asbestos in ConstructionAsbestos-related diseases kill more people than any other single work-related cause.¹
The danger arises when asbestos fibres become airborne and remain suspended in the air.

Breathing in these fibres can damage the lungs and cause cancer.
Anyone responsible for maintenance and repair of a commercial or
industrial property is legally obliged to:

  • Determine whether asbestos is present
  • Assume a material contains asbestos unless there is strong evidence to the  contrary
  • Assess the risk
  • Take action to manage the risk
  • Provide appropriate information to any likely to encounter asbestos

One of the biggest problems is that asbestos can be difficult to detect. In any building constructed before the turn of the century, if the owner cannot prove that the site is asbestos-free, then it’s sensible to assume that you may encounter this particular hazard at some stage. Apart from a few exceptions, contractors need a licence from HSE to work with asbestos insulation, asbestos coating or asbestos insulating board.¹

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) should only be used as a last resort, after you have tried to eliminate or control the hazard. If you use respirators make sure they are the right for the job, in good condition and have the right filters in place.

If you’d like to know more about your responsibilities, working with asbestos is fully covered in the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2012 and the supporting Approved Code of Practice and Guidance.²

To find out more from the new HSE support website, visit

SilicaRespirable crystalline silica (RCS) can be formed when construction materials containing silica, such as bricks, concrete, granite or tiles are cut, drilled, crushed or abraded.

RCS can be breathed
in and may reach the deep lungs where it can scar the delicate
tissue (silicosis). This can cause difficulties in breathing. Long term
exposure to RCS may also increase the risk of lung cancer.³

A full and appropriate risk assessment should be conducted to
determine the extent of the silica exposure and should, where
applicable, quantify the airborne concentration. The HSE have
published several silica guidance documents. These include the
controls that should be applied, for example, water suppression.
For many situations the guidance suggests the use of respiratory
protective equipment (RPE) alongside other controls. Where the
use of RPE is suggested higher performing devices with assigned
protection factors of 20 or 40 are specified.

HSE_LogoHSE guidance publications can be found at

Regular exposure to high noise levels can lead to tinnitus and
hearing loss, although it may take many years for the symptoms to
become apparent.

PPE Compliance 2Employers have a legal responsibility to protect their workers from excessive noise. The risk should be assessed and controlled. Where the noise has already been reduced by other controls, but an
acceptable level has still not been reached, hearing protection
should be provided.

Select your ear defenders carefully and make sure they are kept in
good condition. You should always ensure that your workers have
been properly trained to use the supplied equipment.⁴

Hand-arm vibration
Metal Processing Health and SafetyHand-held power tools are regularly used in construction and the
vibration can cause hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). This
condition affects fingers, hands and arms and can cause permanent
damage over time.

The more a worker is exposed to vibration, the
more likely it is that problems will occur.⁴

As an employer, the law states that you need to assess and control
any risk from vibration. Wherever possible, try to opt for low vibration tools.

If you would like more information on the legislation, take a look at the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
MSDs cover any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other
tissues in the upper or lower limbs or back. Issues can be caused
by regularly lifting, carrying or handling materials and items, as well
as repetitive work such as plastering or rebar tying.
To reduce the risks from manual handling you should avoid
hazardous manual handling operations as far as is reasonably
practicable. Then you will need to assess those hazardous manual
handling operations that simply can’t be avoided and reduce the risk
where possible.⁵

For more information about how to prevent and manage MSDs,
go to

Dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition caused by exposure
to hazardous substances such as wet cement and solvents. This
can either be irritant dermatitis, which is usually caused by the skin
coming into contact with a substance, or allergic contact dermatitis
where a person develops an allergic reaction to a substance.

4560 coverallPPE provided must be appropriate for the hazard involved. When
using gloves and protective coveralls, the wearer must take care not
to get the hazardous substance on their skin when putting them on
or taking them off.⁶

If you’d like to know more about the health and safety issues in the Construction Industry and how best to deal with them, call the 3M helpline on 0870 60 800 60 for an expert opinion. Alternatively, visit

¹ p86
² p90
³ p1
⁴ p92
⁵ p12
⁶ p85

2 thoughts on “Health Hazards in the Construction Industry”

  1. Don’t forget falls! Falling is one of the highest causes of death on the construction site, however most people over look it. Never forget the importance of fall prevention!

  2. There is a reason why you would want to make sure that your company had a health and safety code in construction. Working in construction is working in a lot of hazardous places. You have to make sure that you have the right equipment and everything to work effectively and safely.

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