Physical hazards are present in every construction project. These hazards include noise, heat and cold, radiation, vibration and barometric pressure. Construction work often must be done in extreme heat or cold, in windy, rainy, snowy, or foggy weather or at night. Ionizing and non-ionizing radiation is encountered, as are extremes of barometric pressure.
The machines that have transformed construction into an increasingly mechanized activity have also made it increasingly noisy. The sources of noise are engines of all kinds (e.g., on vehicles, air compressors and cranes), winches, rivet guns, nail guns, paint guns, pneumatic hammers, power saws, sanders, routers, planers, explosives and many more. Noise is present on demolition projects by the very activity of demolition. It affects not only the person operating a noise-making machine, but all those close-by and not only causes noise-induced hearing loss, but also masks other sounds that are important for communication and for safety.
Pneumatic hammers, many hand tools and earth-moving and other large mobile machines also subject workers to segmental and whole-body vibration.
Heat and cold hazards arise primarily because a large portion of construction work is conducted while exposed to the weather, the principal source of heat and cold hazards. Roofers are exposed to the sun, often with no protection, and often must heat pots of tar, thus receiving both heavy radiant and convective heat loads in addition to metabolic heat from physical labor. Heavy equipment operators may sit beside a hot engine and work in an enclosed cab with windows and without ventilation. Those that work in an open cab with no roof have no protection from the sun. Workers in protective gear, such as that needed for removal of hazardous waste, may generate metabolic heat from hard physical labor and get little relief since they may be in an air-tight suit. A shortage of potable water or shade contributes to heat stress as well. Construction workers also work in especially cold conditions during the winter, with danger of frostbite and hypothermia and risk of slipping on ice.
The principal sources of non-ionizing ultraviolet (UV) radiation are the sun and electric arc welding. Exposure to ionizing radiation is less common, but can occur with x-ray inspection of welds, for example, or it may occur with instruments such as flow meters that use radioactive isotopes. Lasers are becoming more common and may cause injury, especially to the eyes, if the beam is intercepted.
Those who work under water or in pressurized tunnels, in caissons or as divers are exposed to high barometric pressure. Such workers are at risk of developing a variety of conditions associated with high pressure: decompression sickness, inert gas narcosis, aseptic bone necrosis and other disorders.
Strains and sprains are among the most common injuries among construction workers. These, and many chronically disabling musculoskeletal disorders (such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and low-back pain) occur as a result of either traumatic injury, repetitive forceful movements, awkward postures or overexertion. Falls due to unstable footing, unguarded holes and slips off scaffolding and ladders are very common.
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