Top 5 Health Risks in Construction (and How to Avoid Them)

Evelyn Long

Jun 2, 2020


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If you work in construction, on-the-job hazards pose considerable risks to your livelihood and health. While you can get workman’s compensation, if you played a contributing role, you could find yourself in a tight financial spot. What do you need to avoid? 

Most companies offer some degree of training, but if you work for a smaller outfit, you might not realize all the risks — until it’s too late. Plus, repetitive motion injuries can impact your long-term health, even if it doesn’t cost you your job. Here are the top five health risks you should watch out for at the job site. 

1. Slips, Trips and Falls 

Job sites are messy and chaotic places, so it’s no surprise that accidents rank high among the top five health risks in construction. The ground can be muddy and slick, causing you to lose your footing, and moving objects or hidden hazards can trip you. Plus, you might encounter various holes waiting to turn a careless ankle. Wear protective boots and a hat to protect your head if you do slip. 

Falls also occur when you’re working at height. Always use the proper equipment and follow ladder instructions — don’t balance atop a stepladder, please. Inspect all personal protective equipment (PPE), like harnesses and straps, at the recommended intervals and replace them if you find flaws. 

2. Repetitive Motion Injuries 

When you work construction, you bend, lift and otherwise relocate items that sometimes outweigh you. Even lighter objects can cause severe back and joint strain if you use improper lifting techniques. Pride can play a role, too, at least before the pain hits. You might hesitate to ask for help or use assistive devices like back braces. 

Ask yourself which you want more — one day of showing off your muscles or a long and healthy career. If an object proves too much for you, ask for help. Understand that this may vary day by day, as your muscles need time to recover that they seldom get. Invest in a high-quality back brace if you experience strain. Don’t assume things will improve with time as you get stronger. Even professional powerlifters use weight belts.

3. Handling Heavy Equipment 

These injuries tend to occur due to user error on smaller sites. For example, one experienced tradesman thought he’d take a shortcut by not using sawhorses when working with a circular saw. After he needed dozens of stitches, he adopted improved practices, but the results could have been worse. Nail guns, too, can cause significant damage if you hit yourself and not wood. 

To avoid these injuries, read all safety manuals for new equipment carefully. It doesn’t matter if you have used a dozen jigsaws — check the instructions for your current model. If you are a site manager or foreman, make sure you train direct reports on proper use. 

4. Electrical Shock

Electrical shock can kill or cause severe internal injury. Unfortunately, on large sites, the wiring crew must install their share while other tasks continue completion. Examples of frequent injuries involve individuals carrying an aluminum ladder struck exposed overhead power lines.

Electrocution creates obvious liability issues, so if you run the show, make sure only licensed professionals handle the electrical work. As much as possible, strive to minimize the other activity around installations, and keep a close eye on overhead lines. 

5. Exposure to Hazardous Materials 

Hazardous material exposure is insidious because symptoms often don’t arise right away. For example, Stachybotrys chartarum and other types of mold can cause nonspecific health symptoms. However, the evidence to date doesn’t prove a causative link with diseases like acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage. That fact is cold comfort when you find yourself calling in sick — again. 

If you renovate older buildings, you need to remain wary of asbestos exposure. While a single episode shouldn’t cause severe issues, the cumulative effect can result in lung disease. Even though you might not feel symptomatic, no amount of exposure to this substance is safe. 

Avoid These Top Five Health Risks in Construction

Construction sites are much like obstacle courses — only the injuries for potential missteps can prove deadly. Protect yourself and your company by avoiding the five types of accidents above. 

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