Noise, or unwanted sound, is one of the most pervasive occupational health problems. Exposure to high levels of noise causes hearing loss and may cause other harmful health effects as well. The extent of damage depends primarily on the intensity of the noise and the duration of the exposure. Exposure to high levels of noise is accumulative and can cause permanent hearing loss. Neither surgery nor a hearing aid can help correct this type of hearing loss. Construction sites have many noisy operations and can be a significant source of noise exposure.
OSHA requires employers to monitor noise exposure levels in a way that accurately identifies employees exposed to noise at or above 85 decibels (dB) averaged over 8 working hours, or an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). Employers must provide hearing protectors to all workers exposed to 8-hour TWA noise levels of 85 dB or above. This requirement ensures that workers have access to protectors before they experience any hearing loss.
When a sound level meter is not available, you should use the 2-3 foot rule: Stand about an arm's length away from your coworker: If you have to raise your voice to be heard 2-3 feet away, you should assume the sound level is at or above 85 dBA.
A personal noise indicator is a warning device. It indicates if your immediate exposure is less than or greater than 85 dBA. It flashes green if the sound level is under 85 dBA and red when above 85 dBA.
Equipment and daily activities at construction job sites can expose workers to high levels of noise. Sound levels on the chart below are listed in decibels (dBA) – the larger the number, the higher the volume or decibel level. How loud the noise is (volume), how long the noise lasts, and how close you are to the noise are all important in determining the hazard.
The table below takes a look at the sound levels of common equipment and tools on a construction site.
|Equipment or Tool||Noise Level May Exceed (decibels)|
|Front End Loader||90|
|Source: University of Washington Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Service-July 2005.|
For more information on hearing conservation, see course 751 Hearing Conservation Program.
Whole-body vibration, from driving trucks or operating subways, can affect skeletal muscles and cause low-back pain. Symptoms include:
Whole-body vibration can occur from operating large mobile equipment, such as the following:
Hand and arm vibration can result from using hand-held power tools, such as sanders, chippers, pneumatic drills and hammers, and disc grinders.
Here are some points to remember to make sure power tools minimize vibration being transmitted to the hands:
A change in body temperatures due to extreme work environmental conditions can lead to stress or illness from heat and cold. If not treated in time, both heat and cold stress can develop into life-threatening situations.
The table below shows some common heat and cold injuries on a construction site.
|Heat Illnesses||Cold Illnesses/Injuries|
|Heat Rash||Frost Nip|
|Fainting||Immersion Injury (Trench Foot)|
The following conditions can occur if a worker is exposed to hot temperatures:
Follow these safe work practices when working in hot temperature conditions.
Cold working conditions can also cause problems for construction workers. For example, rain, snow, sleet and other wet and windy conditions can be unbearable for extended periods of time.
The following conditions can occur if a worker is exposed to cold temperatures:
Follow these safe work practices when working in cold temperature conditions.
Radiation may be defined as energy traveling through space. The most familiar form of electromagnetic (EM) radiation is sunshine, which provides light and heat. Sunshine consists primarily of radiation in infrared (IR), visible, and ultraviolet (UV) frequencies. Lasers also emit EM radiation in these "optical frequencies."
Radiation affects people by depositing energy in body tissue, which can cause cell damage or cell death. In some cases there may be no noticeable effect. In other cases, the cell may survive but become abnormal, either temporarily or permanently. An abnormal cell may become malignant.
Both large and small doses of radiation can cause cellular damage. The extent of the damage depends upon the total amount of energy absorbed, the time period and dose rate of the exposure, and the particular organs exposed.
Ionizing radiation is energy in the form of waves or particles that has enough force to remove electrons from atoms. The major types of radiation emitted during radioactive decay are alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. Radiation can come from natural sources or man-made radionuclides. Man-made x-rays, another type of radiation, are produced outside of the nucleus.
Basic Control Methods for external sources of ionizing radiation include:
Non-ionizing radiation refers to any type of electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy to ionize atoms or molecules - that is, to completely remove an electron from an atom or molecule. Non-ionizing radiation is essential to life, but excessive exposures will cause tissue damage.
Non-ionizing radiation includes the spectrum of infrared (IR), microwave (MW), radio frequency (RF), and extremely low frequency (ELF) and ultraviolet (UV).
Lasers commonly operate in the UV, visible, and IR frequencies.
Non-ionizing radiation is found in a wide range of occupational settings and can pose a considerable health risk to potentially exposed workers if not properly controlled, including skin cancer, eye damage, premature skin aging, and burns.
Workers performing welding and cutting are routinely exposed to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation given off by an arc or flame which can injure their eyes. For protection from this UV radiation, welders must use personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses, goggles, welding helmets, or welding face shields.
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This video by OSHA discusses respiratory protection in construction, and is a summary of the associated hazards and requirements of OSHA Program.
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