Are Construction Workers Frequently Exposed to Toxic Chemicals?

Construction is a highly dangerous industry. According to statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in 2019, one out of every five worker fatalities were in the construction industry. When it comes to work injuries and illnesses, construction is one of the top 10 most dangerous occupations. Working at heights, and around electrical installations, heavy machinery, and moving vehicles, are all part of a normal day on a construction site, but workers must also be aware of the dangers associated with exposure to toxic chemicals.

How are Construction Workers Exposed to Toxic Chemicals?

Construction workers may be exposed to toxic chemicals in a variety of ways. Some common chemicals and substances include:

  • Solvents
  • Glues
  • Insulations materials
  • Paints
  • Industrial cleaning agents
  • Pesticides
  • Acids
  • Gasoline fumes
  • Hot tar
  • Carbon monoxide

Tasks requiring construction workers to remove or install insulation, weld, solder, mix and lay cement or concrete, and use paint or varnish remover are at risk. The following is a list of some of the toxic chemicals that construction workers may encounter:

  • Arsenic: Used in many wood products as a preservative.
  • Asbestos: Used in many insulation products, tiles, and bricks.
  • Beryllium: Used as an alloy element with copper and other metals, beryllium’s toxicity is highly regulated by the OSHA to protect workers.
  • Cadmium: This chemical prevents rust from forming and is present on most of the steel products found on construction sites.
  • Formaldehyde: Commonly found in wood products.
  • Hydrocarbons: These chemicals are used for cleaning and degreasing. Heat and ultraviolet radiation can turn hydrocarbons into toxic phosgene gas.
  • Zinc: Used in metal manufacturing and presents a danger to workers when the metals are cut and welded for construction.
  • Manganese: Present in welding rods and produces toxic fumes.
  • Mercury: Used in some rust-proof coatings and paints. Heat releases harmful mercury vapors.
  • Iron Oxide: Welding of steel produces toxic iron oxide fumes.
  • Lead: Some paints are lead-based, and lead is also present in metal alloys.
  • Silica: Contained in tile, stone, and sand.

What Injuries and Illnesses are Caused by Toxic Chemicals?

Exposure to toxic chemicals may not immediately affect a worker. Sometimes, symptoms show up years after exposure to a toxic substance. Examples of injuries and illnesses from exposure to toxins include:

  • Lead Poisoning: Damages the brain, reproductive system, kidneys, muscles, nervous system, and circulatory system.
  • Metal Fume Fever: A flu-like illness caused by inhaling zinc fumes. Symptoms of this serious condition include nausea, joint pain, and muscle aches, shortness of breath, and pneumonia.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): COPD comprises a wide number of lung conditions, including emphysema. Toxic chemical exposure can cause lung irritation, emphysema, and pulmonary edema.
  • Cancer: Lung cancer, larynx cancer, and cancer of the urinary tract can occur in those welding or working near welders.
  • Manganism: Results from inhaling manganese fumes or dust and is a permanent neurological disorder similar to Parkinson’s disease that causes tremors, facial spasms, and difficulty walking. Continued exposure can cause damage to the lungs, liver, and kidneys. Symptoms that present early in the progression of the disorder include irritability, aggressiveness, and hallucinations.
  • Mesothelioma: A form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
  • Silicosis: This occurs in workers who inhale silica dust, usually those cutting tiles, stone, bricks, or sand blasting. The lungs become scarred, making it difficult to breathe.

What are My Rights Regarding Toxic Chemicals in the Workplace?

In New Jersey, workers have the right to be informed about the hazardous substances used on a jobsite. The New Jersey Worker and Community Right to Know Act requires both public and private employers to provide information about hazardous chemicals or toxins to their employees. This is often through Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) about each substance, including its toxicity, reactivity, health effects, how to administer first aid, proper storage and disposal procedures, and spill and leak procedures.

Armed with this knowledge, workers can make good decisions about their employment, ensure that they know how to work safely with hazardous substances in their workplace, and protect their families. Awareness of toxic chemicals on job sites and how they affect one’s health makes it easier to obtain a correct diagnosis and treatment.

How can I Reduce Exposure to Toxic Chemicals at Work?

The first step to reducing exposure is awareness about the presence of toxic substances. Ask for the MSDSs that employers are required to keep on file. Keep an eye out for warning labels and signs, and make note of the information. There are many websites that provide detailed information about toxic chemicals and their health effects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends several ways employers can protect their workers from exposure to toxic chemicals. Whenever it is possible, toxic chemicals or processes should be replaced with a less hazardous substance. Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, personal ventilators, or protective clothing, should be provided to employees as needed. Proper ventilation must be installed for controlling hazardous airborne substances. Also, exposure to toxic chemicals can be reduced by limiting employee access to high hazard areas and installing barriers to isolate the hazard.

What Steps Should I Take After Exposure?

Anyone who suspects they have experienced a workplace exposure to toxic chemicals should see a doctor right away. Try to bring as much information about the workplace chemical as possible. Anyone injured on the job should be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits. Consulting with an experienced lawyer is a good way to find out about all the available legal options.

New Brunswick Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Help Workers Suffering from Injuries and Illnesses After Chemical Exposure

If you suspect your work injury or illness stems from exposure to toxic chemicals at work, contact one of our experienced New Brunswick Workers’ Compensation lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr. Call us at 732-249-4600 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Highland Park, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout New Brunswick, Somerset, Piscataway, Edison, South River, Sayreville, Metuchen, East Brunswick, South Plainfield, Fords, Middlesex, Old Bridge, Iselin, Bound Brook, Perth Amboy, and Colonia.