If asked to name a dangerous way of earning a living, most people would probably opt for the construction industry. This would be borne out by figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for workplace fatal injury rates for 2015/16, which show that the 43 deaths in construction represented a rate of 1.94 per 100,000 workers, four times the rate for the working population as a whole.
The most common health hazards in construction
The most serious health hazard in the construction industry must be asbestos. It’s difficult to know whether this should be classified as a physical or chemical hazard, but it merits a mention on its own because the 2,500 or so mesothelioma deaths attributed to it in 2014 make it the number one work-related cancer in the UK. On top of this, there is roughly the same numbers of lung cancers associated with asbestos, particularly in those who smoke, for who the risk of lung cancer is around 26 times greater than in the non-smoking, non-asbestos exposed population[8, 9]. The key here lies in the initial identification of the asbestos hazard. In turn, this informs working techniques and relevant personal protective equipment. This should not be too difficult in buildings which have a long history of continuous occupation, since the proprietors should have identified and described the distribution and nature of any asbestos, but this may be a greater problem in buildings which have been derelict.
Respirable crystalline silica, another established lung carcinogen, generated by cutting, grinding and drilling of rocks and concrete, etc is another potential hazard, whilst the role of nano-materials, used in paints, other coatings and ceramic fibres, needs to be appraised for their potential to harm, particularly those which are fibrous, and physically resemble asbestos fibres.