The NIOSH Mission: Keeping Construction Workers Safe and Healthy

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is always on the lookout for ways to identify and reduce work-related injuries and illnesses. For instance, the federal agency has worked closely with the construction industry to protect workers from potentially hazardous substances and situations.

Identifying Hazards
Among its major concerns are reducing hazards related to toxicity, falls, and electrocutions. In recent years NIOSH has:

* Publicized hazards associated with lead-containing paint and made recommendations to reduce lead exposure and prevent lead poisoning among workers involved in demolishing or maintaining bridges and other steel structures.
* Assisted manufacturers in redesign efforts to reduce emissions from asphalt during the paving process.
* Encouraged proper elevated work practices and use of fall prevention and fall arrest systems.
* Described electrocutions that occur when erecting, moving, or working from scaffolds.

Successful Programs
NIOSH has conducted investigations that resulted in significant workplace changes and has been instrumental in starting successful programs that has saved lives and money. Specific efforts include:

Monitoring Lead Toxicity in Bridge Workers -- People working on bridges are
exposed to dangerously high levels of lead, because most bridges are coated with lead-
containing paint. To help reduce lead toxicity in bridge workers, NIOSH funded the
Connecticut Road Industry Surveillance Project (CRISP) which provides medical
examinations and procedures to monitor and reduce occupational lead exposures; on-site
technical assistance to help reduce lead exposures; and a surveillance system to monitor
workers' blood lead levels. CRISP saves the state of Connecticut approximately $2.5
millions each year in workers' compensation costs. After the CRISP was started,
workers' blood lead levels decreased by 50 percent.

Controlling Asphalt Fume Exposures During Paving -- Workers are exposed to
asphalt fumes while paving roads, roofing, and waterproofing. Fumes from molten
asphalt can cause cancer, skin diseases, and eye and respiratory tract irritation. Asphalt
manufacturers and NIOSH worked together to develop systems designed to reduce
exposures through capturing fume emissions from paving equipment.

Preventing Injuries and Deaths Caused by Falls -- The leading cause of fatalities in
the construction industry are falls from structures such as buildings, scaffolds, and
ladders. After investigating 75 fall incidents, NIOSH researchers developed specific
prevention recommendations that include site-specific evaluation of potential fall
hazards; implementation of fall protection programs; proper erection, maintenance, and
use of access equipment like scaffolds and ladders; installation and maintenance of
appropriate barriers such as guard rails and covers on floor openings; and proper
selection and use of fall restraint and fall arrest systems.

Preventing Electrocutions of Crane Operators and Crew Members -- After an
investigation, NIOSH researchers found that 13% of work-related electrocutions involved
cranes making contact with overhead power lines. The researchers evaluated the
circumstances and developed procedures and precautions to assure safe crane operation
around power lines.

-- Dan Harvey

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