The construction industry comes with its fair share of hidden health concerns and safety risks, but most people are aware of these. Incidents like falls, machinery-related accidents and exposure to dangerous chemicals are common enough that every construction company in the world has rules and policies in place to prevent them.
While you might be familiar with these problems, what about the hidden health risks that accompany construction projects? Explore some of these lesser-known health concerns and discover what you can do to prevent them from causing issues on your job site.
Exposure to Constant Vibration
Many pieces of heavy equipment on your job site generate enormous amounts of vibration when they’re in operation. The exact degree of vibration will depend on the type of machinery, as well as its use. Regardless of the details, studies have shown continual exposure to high-frequency vibration can cause injury to those working with those tools over time.
Vibration in the hands and arms can contribute to other conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome as well as hand and finger injuries and grip issues. Whole-body vibration can cause lower back injuries, which are one of the most common reasons for lost time at work.
Despite the obvious link between equipment vibration and workplace injury, scientists have done very little research to reduce or mitigate the risk to workers. Worksite supervisors and managers can take steps to address these risks, though. These actions include ensuring machinery is in good repair to lessen unnecessary vibration and scheduling frequent breaks for employees using vibrating equipment. You can also use vibration monitors to determine how much movement a worker has experienced, which can help you make smarter decisions when planning assignments.
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Construction-Related Hearing Loss
There’s no way to avoid it. From jackhammers to backhoes and everything in between, construction equipment is loud — loud enough to cause hearing damage in some cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of all contractors have experienced dangerous noise levels in the workplace, and roughly one-third report they don’t wear ear protection on the job. As a result, around 14% of construction workers have some level of hearing loss.
The easiest way to address this hidden health concern is to require all employees to wear hearing protection while they’re on the job. Noise-canceling headphones can reduce potential damage while still allowing your crew to communicate unimpeded. These can also be useful in preventing hearing injury during exposure to loud environments off the job site as well. All-around hearing protection is essential, no matter what the circumstances are.
Respiratory Problems From Dust Exposure
Contractors and construction workers are often exposed to dust in the course of a workday. Unfortunately, among the sawdust, dirt and debris there are often more dangerous particles, such as crystalline silica. Breathing high levels of silica can lead to significant respiratory health concerns. In one 2017 case study, 51.8% of eighty-five construction workers were found to have moderately restricted lung function due to exposure to silica and other particulates.
What can you do to keep the worksite healthy when dust is a reality of the job? First, keep sites as free of particulates as possible. Monitor the risk of different types of work and make sure closed-off work areas are well-ventilated. Then, make sure workers are using filtering respirator masks to protect their lungs from unseen risks. At the very least, rotate workers and subcontractors to minimize their exposure over time.
Untreated Mental Health Concerns
As with most things, the health problems you can see are probably the ones you’re most likely to address. But what about invisible health concerns? Mental health care is a vital part of ensuring your employees are thriving.
Since the symptoms and illnesses are primarily internal, however, people treat them with an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. In reality, mental health issues in the construction industry are a growing problem, and if you’re concerned about hidden health threats, this is something you’ll need to consider.
One study found as many as one out of five construction workers experience mental health concerns ranging from depression and anxiety to suicidal thoughts and substance abuse. When you pair these issues with a largely male-dominated industry that values toughness over sensitivity, it becomes easy to see why mental illness is a growing concern.
Start addressing this health threat by learning as much as you can about the nature of mental illness in the construction industry. Often, the team just needs a champion to feel comfortable with vulnerability at work. Begin the conversation, open the door and let your team members know they don’t have to suffer in silence.
While you, as a construction manager or business owner, might not be qualified to offer therapy, providing your crew with the tools they need to seek help is the next best thing. Once the conversation starts, you can help your team access professional help and even start a workplace support group.
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Keeping Contractors Safe from Unseen Risks
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that not all of the health and safety threats on a construction site are obvious. Some of them only cause injury or illness over time, and others remain invisible even when people are suffering. Make sure you’re aware of all the potential health concerns that could emerge from your worksite — not just the apparent ones.
In a workplace culture where workers prize toughness over everything, it’s easy to let things like mental health and vibration injuries slip through the cracks. That can happen simply because these problems aren’t at the forefront of your mind. However, you can change that by taking the initiative. Take the time to learn all the potential risks of construction work and how you can prevent them.
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