Physical hazards are different types of energy which may be hazardous to construction workers. They include noise, vibration, temperature extremes, and radiation.
This module will take a closer look at these hazards and how to protect yourself.
Prolonged exposure to excessive noise levels can cause noise-induced hearing loss. Noise levels above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.
When you are exposed to excessive noise levels, the first stage is temporary hearing loss. Over time, the hearing loss becomes permanent.
Several factors influence the noise levels that workers are exposed to. For example, the type of equipment being operated, condition and maintenance of the equipment, and enclosed or partially enclosed spaces.
High noise levels can also be sporadic on construction sites. Damage to your hearing is cumulative and exposure limits are based on 8-hour averages. Workers who are not operating equipment are often also exposed to the excessive noise at the site.
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 useful information on hearing conservation, please see OSHAcademy course 751 Hearing Conservation Program.
Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the theSafetyBrief.com. Cement burns and irritations are the #1 occupational skin disease in the U.S. Why is wet cement such a widespread danger? How do workers avoid it? Listen!
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 pneumatic drills and hammers, and disc grinders.
Hand-arm vibration may cause carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a disease that affects the fingers and hands. In the long run, permanent damage to the nerves will cause a loss of the sense of touch and dexterity.
Working in a cold and damp environment can also aggravate the harmful effects of hand-arm vibration.
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.
Heavy work in high temperatures can cause muscle cramps, dehydration, sudden collapse, and unconsciousness.
Cold temperatures can lead to fatigue, irregular breathing, confusion, and loss of consciousness (hypothermia).
The table below takes a look at some common heat and cold injuries on a construction site.
|Heat Illnesses||Cold Illnesses/Injuries|
|Heat Rash||Frost Nip|
|Fainting||Immersion Injury (Trench Foot)|
Hot working conditions can occur in a variety of different instances. For example:
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. Below are some other examples of cold conditions:
Any release of radioactive material is a potential source of radiation exposure to the population. In addition to exposure from external sources, radiation exposure can occur internally from ingesting, inhaling, injecting, or absorbing radioactive materials. Both external and internal sources may irradiate the whole body or a portion of the body.
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. Additionally, 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. By damaging the genetic material (DNA) contained in the body’s cells, radiation can cause cancer. Damage to genetic material in reproductive cells can cause genetic mutations that can be passed on to future generations. In rare occurrences where there is a large amount of radiation exposure, sickness or even death can occur in a limited amount of hours or days.
Ionizing radiation is energy in the form of waves or particles that has enough force to remove electrons from atoms. One source of radiation is the nuclei of unstable atoms. As these radioactive atoms seek to become more stable, their nuclei eject or emit particles and high-energy waves. This process is known as radioactive decay.
Some radioactive materials, such as radium, uranium, and thorium, have existed since the formation of the earth. The radioactive gas radon is one type of radioactive material produced as these naturally-occurring radioisotopes decay. Human activities, such as the splitting of atoms in a nuclear reactor, can also create radioactive materials.
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 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.
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