Engineering controls are one of the most effective means of reducing construction worker exposure to health hazards. However, given the variability of construction tasks and the dynamic nature of construction work sites, assessing worker exposure and selecting the most appropriate controls at the outset of a project is challenging.
This article discusses the development, functionality and application of the Exposure Control Database, an evidence-based solution that estimates construction worker exposure to four common health hazards: silica, welding fumes, noise and lead.
It also highlights the limitations and lack of consistency in air sampling procedures and outlines a new approach to standardize and continuously improve data collection and data sharing processes.
Despite efforts to create safer and healthier workplaces, construction workers in the U.S. still experience a noticeably high rate of fatal and nonfatal injuries and illnesses. The construction industry has experienced a fatality rate of 10.2 per 100,000 full-time employees, approximately three times higher than all other industries average (CPWR, 2018). These fatalities are, to a large extent, attributed to acute safety incidents or exposure to hazardous substances and materials on construction jobsites. However, approximately 95,000 workers died in 2017 from chronic occupational diseases (AFL-CIO, 2019), and up to 50% of occupational cancer deaths are attributed to exposures in the construction industry (Hutchings & Rushton, 2012). National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Construction Sector Council (2018) has identified silica, welding fumes, noise and lead as research priorities in the construction industry.
Silica causes a number of chronic illnesses and fatalities among construction workers. OSHA (2016) reported that about two million construction workers are exposed to hazardous levels of silica dust every year. OSHA promulgated a comprehensive silica standard in 2016 in an effort to reduce construction worker exposure to hazardous levels of silica dust.
Lead is a persistent health hazard in construction. To reduce construction worker exposure to lead, OSHA released a comprehensive standard in 1993. However, NIOSH has reported that about 32 of 100,000 construction workers still have elevated levels of lead in their blood, defined as 10 Μg/dL or higher (CPWR, 2018). This concerning fact calls for more robust preventive solutions.