Minimizing The Risk Posed By Indoor Air Pollution On Site

By Jennifer Axley

The construction industry is necessarily preoccupied with safety rules and regulations, but these often don’t include in-depth looks at the impact of indoor air pollution. According to a study published by the Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine, construction workers are at a higher risk of contracting respiratory disease, including lung cancer – and for reasons beyond just age and smoking habits. Clearly, including a proper indoor air pollution program as part of a wider health and safety strategy is crucial for workers. Understanding the risks is the first step to achieving this.

Background risks

Construction sites play host to the same indoor air pollution risks as any home or place of work. The air breathed inside the home can be more harmful than outdoor air pollution, depending on where you live, with dust, dirt, bacteria and fungi contributing to poor indoor air quality. With the fact that construction sites are often open to the outdoors or experience significant footfall, this risk becomes intermingled with outdoor air pollution risks. This can be a huge risk – according to a study published by the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, up to 3.8 million people die every year globally from causes attributable to indoor air quality. At a construction site, this risk is heightened.

Construction risks

Construction workers will be familiar with dust masks and breathing apparatus designed to reduce the impact of particulates in the air. One of the most dangerous of these, silica dust, has been highlighted by The Guardian as being responsible for lung scarring and silicosis, which can lead to chronic wheezing, arthritis, cancer, and reduced life expectancy. Construction workers may be exposed to silicate minerals in the area long after their work has finished due to the fine nature of it, and they may be exposed often due to the fact that silicates are used in a lot of concrete-based work. Addressing this is crucial.

Addressing construction site air quality

There are two major steps that construction site managers can take to improve air quality. This, in turn, will improve quality of life for employees, and reduce the risk of health and safety violations. Firstly, having good quality ventilation is key. This is especially important in particularly humid or still environments – having a lack of air circulation to remove particulates can be dangerous, as can damp air, which helps particles to stick around. Secondly, consider implementing stricter controls on mask usage and re-breather usage – especially for employees working around concrete and other fine particulates, like when using grinders and saws on solid materials. This will help to reduce the intake of particulates and other materials on the site.

Improving air conditions will ultimately have two big impacts. It will safeguard employee health and create a better place to work, and it will ensure standards are kept to their absolute maximum level. With the impacts of indoor air pollution being clearly felt across the world, this is undoubtedly a benefit.

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