AIHA Notes Four Construction Health Hazards


Just last month the American Industrial Hygiene Association released a guidance booklet, “Focus Four for Health: An Initiative to Address Four Major Construction Health Hazards,” in order to help raise awareness about various health hazards in the construction industry.

About the Guidance Document

Different from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s annual “Top 10 Safety Violations” or the “Fatal Four,” the AIHA is trying to bring awareness to other site conditions that also pose major health threats to those who work in the industry.

Developed by the association’s Construction Committee, the document targets construction contractors and focuses on significant health hazards, recognizing the lag of efforts taken to reduce health hazards compared to workplace safety and how health hazards can be controlled.

“Unfortunately, health hazards, such as noise or air contaminants, are common in construction," said Matt Gillen, team leader for the Focus Four for Health project. "When health problems occur, they can cut careers short, cause pain and disability, and even cause premature death."

According to an AIHA press release, some of these hazards are often overlooked due to their slow development—making them harder to recognize compared with visible injuries.

The four hazards in the booklet include:

  • Manual Material Handling: Accounting for about a third of all work-related injuries in construction and half of all workers’ compensation costs, the handling of construction materials is known to result in overexertion during lifting, pulling, carrying and pushing—top causes of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Noise: Linked to hearing loss, tinnitus (chronic ear ringing), sleep disturbances, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression and balance impairment, this hazard is estimated to have impacted 75% of construction workers due to exposure to noise levels above the recommended exposure limit as set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
  • Air Contaminants: Known to cause a variety of short- and long-term effects: dusts, fumes, gases and vapors can cause health issues ranging from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease irritations to nervous system problems and kidney damage or even cancer. According to AIHA, more than half of construction workers report being regularly exposed to these air contaminants, ultimately causing them to be two to six times more at risk for developing an occupation-related disease.
  • High Temperatures: One of the most serious heat-related illnesses is heat stroke, which has the potential to result in permanent disability or even death if not treated quickly or properly, while heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps and rashes are also a construction worker’s concern. An OSHA study of 20 heat illness cases, involving 13 deaths, found that four occurred on the worker’s first day on the job.

What Now

In representing professionals and experts dedicated to preventable occupational health hazards, the new AIHA publication serves as a companion piece with the association’s continual Focus Four program.

“This new publication provides a one-stop, easy-to-use booklet to get employers started on the road to better on-the-job health," said Gillen.

“We want to stimulate new activities and partnerships among construction and safety and health professionals to better control health hazards. Ultimately, that will be good for the U.S. and Canadian construction workers and employers who build our homes, roads, bridges and buildings.”

In addition to highlighting the top four fatal injury hazards, the publication educates contractors on safety strategies, pre-job planning and job safety analyses.

In closing, the document notes, “This does not mean these are the only health hazards that are important in construction. There are other health hazards, such as vibration, cold temperatures or skin exposures to chemicals. We believe that tackling the Focus Four for Health hazards will give employers and organizations experience and skills they can use to take on other priority health hazards that are relevant to them.”

If anyone has questions, comments, suggestions, data or photos they wish to share with AIHA Construction Committee, they may do so by sending them to


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