Expanding Safety's 'Focus Four' to Cover Health

Earmuffs Image by Mimzy from Pixabay
Image by Mimzy from Pixabay

In 1994, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched its "Focus Four" initiative, targeting the top four safety hazards in construction: falls from heights, electrocution, crushing injuries (such as trench cave-ins) and being struck by material or equipment.

Last month, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) created its own "Focus Four" initiative, targeting what it believes to be the top four overall health hazards in construction: manual material handling, noise, air contaminants and high temperature.

On June 18, the AIHA released its booklet, Focus Four for Health: An Initiative to Address Four Major Construction Health Hazards, which was developed by the AIHA Construction Committee.

The document explains that, while there is a lot of attention paid specifically to worker safety hazards in construction jobs, less attention often gets paid to worker health hazards in construction jobs.

"As described in the booklet's introduction, this is partly because illnesses and disorders from many types of health hazards develop slowly—making them harder for employers and employees to recognize compared with injuries," the AIHA stated.

Still, the problems can be serious.

"Unfortunately, health hazards, such as noise or air contaminants, are common in construction," said Matt Gillen, team leader for the Focus Four for Health project. "When health problems occur, they can cut careers short, cause pain and disability, and even cause premature death."

The booklet describes the four common health hazards:

1). Manual material handling can lead to overexertion during lifting, pulling, pushing and carrying. According to the AIHA, these musculoskeletal disorders account for about one-third of all work-related injuries in construction and about half of all workers' compensation costs.

2). High noise levels can cause hearing loss, as well as sleep disturbances, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression, and impairment in balance. A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found almost three-fourths of construction workers have been exposed to noise levels above the recommended maximums.

3). Air contaminants include dusts, fumes, vapors, and gases, which can cause asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), nervous system problems, kidney damage, and even cancer. More than half of construction workers report being regularly exposed to these contaminants twice or more a week.

4). Finally, Working in excessively high temperatures can lead to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope (fainting), heat cramps, and/or heat rash.

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