Construction work is dynamic, diverse, and constantly changing. This leads to a great challenge in protecting the health and safety of construction workers. Workers are at risk of exposure to many different types of hazards that can result in physical injury, illness, disability, or even death.
Here's a list of factors that increase the health and safety risk of workers while working on construction sites:
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Exposure to biological hazards may occur during demolition, renovation, sewer work, work on air handling systems, or other construction work from contact with contaminated or disease-carrying materials, such as:
The most common biological health hazards in the workplace are found:
Fungi (mold) are found everywhere, both indoors and outdoors, all year round. The terms fungi and mold are often used interchangeably, but mold is actually a type of fungi. There are many thousands of species of mold and most, if not all, of the mold found indoors comes from outdoor sources.
Mold seems likely to grow and become a problem only when there is water damage, high humidity, or dampness. Molds are organized into three groups according to human responses:
We will take a closer look at each of these types of molds in the next tab.
Molds produce and release millions of spores small enough to be airborne. They can also produce toxic agents known as mycotoxins. Spores and mycotoxins can have negative effects on human health. The most common route of entry into the body is through inhalation; mold has a characteristic smell - if you smell mold, you could be inhaling mold. Mold is generally visible; however, some of the most toxic mold spores are small enough to be considered respirable [less than 10 micrometers (10 μm) in diameter].
Allergenic molds do not usually produce life-threatening health effects and are most likely to affect those who are already allergic or asthmatic. The human system responses to allergenic molds tend to be relatively mild, depending on individual sensitivities, typically producing scratchy throats, eye and nose irritations, and rashes.
Pathogenic molds usually produce some type of infection. They can cause serious health effects in persons with suppressed immune systems. Healthy people can usually resist infection by these organisms regardless of dose. In some cases, high exposure may cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis (an acute response to exposure to an organism).
Mycotoxins can cause serious health effects in almost anybody. These agents have toxic effects ranging from short-term irritation to immuno-suppression and possibly cancer. Therefore, when toxigenic molds are found, further evaluation is recommended.
Remember, molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any substance, providing moisture is present.
There are several things to be aware of while cleaning up mold on a construction site. Here are a few things to remember.
CAUTION: Do not mix bleach with other cleaning products that contain ammonia. Highly toxic chlorine gas can be produced.
Respirators protect cleanup workers from inhaling airborne mold, contaminated dust, and other particulates that are released during the remediation process. Either a half-mask or full-face piece air-purifying respirator can be used. A full-face piece respirator provides both respiratory and eye protection. More protective respirators may have to be selected and used if toxic contaminants such as asbestos or lead are encountered during remediation.
Respiratory protection is effective only if:
Respiratory protection for exposure to mold will depend on the size of the particle and its level of toxicity.
Many native and exotic plants are poisonous to humans when ingested or if there is skin contact with plant chemicals. However, the most common problems with poisonous plants arise from contact with the sap oil of several plants that cause an allergic reaction: poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac release oil when the leaf or other plant parts are bruised, damaged, or burned. Approximately 85 percent of the general population will develop an allergy if exposed to these plants. The sensitivity to the sap usually develops after several encounters with poison ivy, oak, or sumac. When the oil gets on the skin, an allergic reaction, referred to as contact dermatitis, occurs in most exposed people as an itchy red rash with bumps or blisters.
You might have heard the old saying "Leaves of three, let it be!" It is a helpful reminder for identifying poison ivy and oak, but not poison sumac which usually has clusters of 7-13 leaves. Even poison ivy and poison oak may have more than three leaves and their form may vary greatly depending upon the exact species encountered, the local environment, and the season.
Being able to identify local varieties of these poisonous plants throughout the seasons and differentiating them from common non-poisonous look-a-likes are the major keys to avoiding exposure.
If you are working in a wooded area, you want to be on the lookout for poison ivy. It is everywhere in the United States except Hawaii and Alaska. In the East, Midwest, and the South, it grows as a vine. In the Northern and Western United States, it grows as a shrub. Each leaf has three leaflets. Leaves are green in the summer and red in the fall. In the late summer and fall, white berries may grow from the stems.
Here are a few things to remember about poison ivy.
Poison oak is usually a shrub with leaves of three, similar to poison ivy. It has oak-like leaves in clusters of three. There are two distinct kinds: Eastern poison oak and Western poison oak.
In the United States, poison sumac grows in standing water in peat bogs in the Northeast and Midwest and in swampy areas in parts of the Southeast. Each leaf has clusters of seven to 13 smooth-edged leaflets. The plants can grow up to 15 feet tall. The leaves are orange in spring, green in summer, and red, orange, or yellow in fall. There may be clumps of pale yellow or cream-colored berries.
Sign and symptoms of poison ivy, oak, and sumac include:
Possible solutions and controls for poison ivy, oak, and sumac include:
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