Coatings Industry News

Main News Page

Construction Workers at Risk for COPD

Monday, August 17, 2015

Comment | More

Respiratory health among construction workers is the focus of new research by Duke University and the Center for Construction Research.

Ads on TV may lead you to equate breathing disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to smoking alone.

And while it is certainly a primary contributor, a recent article in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine finds that a variety of workplace exposures brings risk of COPD to construction workers.

This adds to another known construction site respiratory threat: airborne silica dust.

Vapors, Gases, Dusts, and Fumes

In “A case-control study of airways obstruction among construction workers” (available only through subscription or download purchase), researchers from Duke University and CPWR, established a link between the vapors, gases, dusts, and fumes (VGDF) found on a job site and an increased risk of developing COPD.  

cutting stone
© / ands456

Construction workers run the risk of developing COPD because of the vapors, gases, dust and fumes they encounter on the job, a recent study found.

Their study, which was conducted between 1997 and 2013, included a medical screening program of older construction workers and took their lifetime work and exposure histories into consideration.  

Researchers determined that, among their study sample, about an 18 percent risk of COPD could be related to on-the-job exposures for construction workers, in addition to the risk already present in smokers.

They recommend steps to prevent these worksite exposures, in addition to smoking cessation programs.

“A simplistic view of COPD in the workforce might lead employers to begin and end with smoking cessation efforts, but the evidence says otherwise,” said Center for Construction Research and Training Executive Director Pete Stafford in a Wednesday (Aug. 5) CPWR Update.

“In construction, at least, occupational exposures remain a major cause of COPD in their own right, and we need to protect workers by getting VGDF under control,” he added. 

Stafford also shared a link to an executive summary of their findings and recommendations. 

Silica Dust

Silicosis has long posed a respiratory threat to worker health. An OSHA Fact Sheet on the topic reports that 1.85 million construction workers are exposed to silica-containing products on the job.

© / shime02

A further risk to respiratory health is posed to workers cutting into materials that contain silica; new exposure rules are still being developed by OSHA.

Those involved in sandblasting operations are at risk, as are those who are cutting, drilling or grinding concrete, stone, brick, block or rock containing silica. Exposure can also occur to workers related to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and gas wells.

Although OSHA posts maximum Permissible Exposure Limits for Silica, a rule proposal to protect workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica has remained in progress since 2013. It admits that it is enforcing 40-year-old standards on silica in construction and shipyards.

Since the proposal's introduction, there have been a number of hearings and extended comment periods, the most recent in June of this year, when responses to the comment period were being analyzed.

If passed, the proposed rule would lower the current, outdated exposure limits, include measurement provisions, limit and reduce worker exposure to hazards and implementing dust control methods.


Tagged categories: Air quality; Construction; Dust Collectors; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Research; Silica; Workers

Comment from Deb Huizenga, (8/18/2015, 3:28 PM)

has silica always been in concrete and cement blocks? My father worked as a brick/block layer for years. (1940's to 1960's) He is 87 years old. Should we have him checked for this? He sometimes has shortness of breath. Thanks!

Comment Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.

Strand’s Industrial Coatings

HoldTight Solutions Inc.

Tarps manufacturing, Inc.

Paint BidTracker

Sauereisen, Inc.


NLB Corporation

Modern Safety Techniques


Technology Publishing Co., 1501 Reedsdale Street, Suite 2008, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

TEL 1-412-431-8300  • FAX  1-412-431-5428  •  EMAIL

The Technology Publishing Network

PaintSquare the Journal of Protective Coatings & Linings Paint BidTracker

EXPLORE:      JPCL   |   PaintSquare News   |   Interact   |   Buying Guides   |   Webinars   |   Resources   |   Classifieds
REGISTER AND SUBSCRIBE:      Free PaintSquare Registration   |   Subscribe to JPCL   |   Subscribe to PaintSquare News
MORE:      About   |   Privacy Policy   |   Terms & Conditions   |   Support   |   Site Map   |   Search   |   Contact Us