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With powerful machinery and heavy-duty tasks, construction sites are some of the noisiest places. Not only is the industry filled with loud sounds, it is also filled with noise-induced hazards. There are over 30 million construction workers who are exposed to prolonged noise on a daily basis.

Decibels (dBA) are the units used to measure and evaluate sound intensity. While human beings can register sounds above 140 decibels, any exposure to noise above 85 decibels is not recommended. Exposure time also comes into play — the longer your ears are subject to this noise level, the likelihood of permanent hearing loss rises.

The workplace risk for workers in construction is that loud noises on job sites damage hearing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14% of workers report having a hearing difficulty due to the hazardous noise at their work. Construction workers operate equipment above the 85 dBA level. While it may be harmless to listen to this sounds for a few minutes, construction workers are exposed to long noise constantly for hours on any day.

Exposure to sounds at the acceptable level for more than two hours consistently can cause physical damage to your hearing. While regulations are helping to combat this, construction workers also need to wear hearing protection. 31% of workers report that they do not.

To put the risks of workplace noise into perspective, BigRentz created a scale of common construction noises compared to everyday sounds and highlighted tips for construction workers to prevent hearing loss in the infographic below.


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An OSHA health compliance officer (an industrial hygienist -- IH) recently put me in an ethical dilemma. While conducting “side-by-side” air sampling as the employer’s representative during an OSHA inspection, I observed that the OSHA IH was not sampling for asbestos correctly.

OSHA 29 CFR 1926.1101, Appendix B, Asbestos Sampling and Analysis, states at section 5.2.3, “Do not use luer connectors – the type of cassette specified has built-in adapter.” And section 5.2.6, states “Remove the end cap of each cassette and take each air sample open face.” These regulatory advisory sections are consistent with OSHA Method ID-160 and NIOSH 7400 for air sampling for asbestos fibers.

Metal luer connectors should not be used because they may generate static charge during sampling that may create false negative results. Failure to sample “open face” may create false positive results. The OSHA IH made the novice, but critical asbestos sampling errors, by using metal luer connectors and sampling with filter closed face.

Ethically, as the employer’s representative, should I intervene to correct OSHA mistakes that may lead to invalid results, or stay silent and let OSHA sample as they want and contest possible citations later?

Side-by-side experience

In my early days, I would intervene. The downside to incorrect IH results is great. Now I let the OSHA IH “do his thing” with as little interference as possible. Intervention only occurs today if the OSHA IH is also a certified industrial hygienist (CIH). I am a CIH; if we both are certified, obligations to uphold CIH ethics outweigh other considerations.

I’ve done enough side-by-side sampling with OSHA to know this: OSHA IHs often make critical sampling and/or observation errors. There appears to be few seasoned OSHA IHs that make site inspections. OSHA IHs with less than five years of experience are generally good with IH science but lack the “art” of IH, such as knowing when and how employees may falsely alter exposure results.

Employer responsibilities

OSHA 1903.7 regarding the conduct of inspections permits OSHA IHs to use varied investigative techniques. Most employers know that they should mimic and meticulously document these techniques. For example, if OSHA takes a picture or video, or collects IH samples, the employer should do the same.

Collecting IH samples is one of the rare times when OSHA often must schedule an inspection with the employer, particularly when eight-hour time-weighted average samples are necessary to determine compliance with permissible exposure limits -- PELs. This scheduling gives an employer an opportunity, if they choose, to bring in their own IH to conduct side-by-side sampling with the OSHA IH.

The downside to false IH results is great. In the above example, if OSHA obtains a false positive result, the employer is required to post the citation and notice of penalty. The false positive result will remain until the employer contests the citation at an informal hearing. In the meantime, employees may believe they’re breathing in asbestos fibers, creating undue concern and animosity.

Scheduled inspection

The following nine key steps should occur if OSHA schedules an IH inspection:

1. Promptly secure the services of the corporate or third-party IH to conduct side-by-side sampling with OSHA. Because results may be contested, the IH should hold the CIH credential.

2. Promptly advise OSHA that an IH representing the employer will conduct side-by-sampling. OSHA will often agree to reasonably arrange dates to help fit into the employer representative IH’s schedule.

3. Upon request, provide the IH representative’s name and credentials e.g. CIH, CSP, etc. to OSHA. OSHA cannot refuse to work with the IH representative chosen by the employer.

4. Request OSHA to provide its sampling protocol. What flow rates will OSHA use? Flow rates established for any monitoring determine how often individual samples must be changed out over the course of the workday. This information and more, including copies of all applicable safety data sheets, should be passed onto the employer IH representative.

5. Advise your IH representative of expected conduct – handling ethical dilemmas, being cooperative, providing limited interference, and not volunteer information. The IH rep should be seen but rarely heard.

6. The IH rep’s objective is to obtain precise and accurate results. If best practices are followed by the OSHA IH and employer representative IH, then results should be statistically similar, though not necessarily exact.

7.Expedite your laboratory (should be AIHA accredited) analysis, so you have results before OSHA. Be aware that OSHA substance-specific standards e.g. asbestos, lead, benzene, etc. have time requirements for employee notification of the employer IH’s monitoring results. For asbestos, it is no later than five working days after the receipt of the results. The IH representative generally receives laboratory results first and then tabulates these findings, as appropriate, into PEL time-weighted average (TWA) comparisons. When these actions are completed, the employer is notified, and OSHA time requirements are triggered for employee notification of monitoring results.

8. An employer IH report, however, is not the same as results. “Employee exposure record” at OSHA 1910.1020 includes not just results but also “…related collection and analytical methodologies, calculations, and other background data relevant to interpretation of the results obtained…” Inclusion of OSHA findings helps make the IH report complete.

9. Be aware that 1910.1020 requires that exposure records be kept for a minimum of 30 years with requirements for employee access. Why? Epidemiological purposes, as one example. Because of these and other requirements, that may have significant potential future impact, the OSHA side-by-side IH report should be reviewed by the employer in draft and edited, as necessary, before final release and filling.


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Even in what is normally considered “good weather,” there can be situations hazardous to the health of outdoor workers. Intense heat can cause illness or even death. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation accompanying strong rays from the sun can cause everything from a painful sunburn to skin cancer. In lower latitudes, these risks are often present all year. In higher latitudes, they occur in the summer.

To a large extent, both excessive heat and dangerous levels of UV are a function of the intensity of sunlight, which itself is determined by the elevation angle of the sun. The higher the sun is in the sky, the less atmosphere to traverse, and the stronger the solar radiation. During a day, the maximum solar angle occurs at noon. This is typically not at “local noon” but rather “solar noon” or the half-way point between sunrise and sunset. A simple rule is that the shorter your shadow, the higher and stronger the sun is.

Over the course of a year in mid and high latitudes, the sun is at its zenith on the summer solstice. For the Northern Hemisphere, this can occur between June 20 and 22. The summer solstice for the Southern Hemisphere is the opposite, December 21 or 22. The region between 23.5oN and 23.5oS, the tropics, typically have a “high sun” throughout much of the year.

Although solar intensity and the UV threat is directly related to these astronomical events, temperature lags. It takes time for things to heat up in the summer. Highest temperatures in mid-latitudes usually don’t occur until a month after the summer solstice. In some tropical regions, the “high sun” period coincides with the rainy season. In these areas, the most intense sunlight and highest temperatures typically occur just before the rainy season starts and just after it ends. In many tropical desert locations, the highest sun coincides with the least cloudiness, thus exasperating the problem.

Looking at the heat issue first, a person’s body temperature will rise when he or she is exposed to a warmer environment or when that person is engaged in physical activity. For most outdoor workers, the combination of these factors must be allowed for. Temperatures which may be non-problematic for sedentary activities can be an issue for more strenuous work. If a body’s temperature becomes too high, it can react in different ways depending on the severity of the condition. The effects can range from heat cramps to heat exhaustion, and possibly to fatal heat stroke.

A person’s body cools itself by sweating. The water which appears on the skin will evaporate, thus giving a cooling effect. So, these situations can also lead to dehydration and a loss of electrolytes such as salt – besides an unhealthy increase in body temperature.

Interestingly, since the body cools itself by evaporating sweat, heat danger is a function of not just the temperature but also the humidity or amount of moisture in the air. Dry air would allow maximum evaporation and cooling. But humid air will slow the evaporation process and limit the self-cooling effect.

To allow for both effects with one number, meteorologists developed the Heat Index. It combines the temperature and the humidity into one value, a “feels like temperature.” For example if the temperature is 92oF and the relative humidity is 60 percent, the Heat Index would be 105oF, putting people in the “danger zone” for heat disorders. This means it would feel the same outside if the air was dry and the actual temperature was 105oF.

In the United States, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has taken the lead in protecting outdoor workers with their Heat Illness Prevention campaign, launched in 2011. The key is education. To achieve the desired safety objectives, OSHA has used training sessions, outreach events, informational sessions, publications, social media messaging and media appearances. Their slogan for heat safety is “Water, Rest, Shade.” Under OSHA law, employers must protect workers from many hazards including extreme heat. To accomplish this OSHA requirements include:

  • Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
  • Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
  • Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness.

    Our safety program makes sure everyone is aware when extreme temperatures are forecast (i.e. shift change briefings). Our local safety coordinator monitors temperatures on the ramp when they reach a danger zone,” says Vic Gregg, Director of Safety Standards and Audit, Enterprise Safety, Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc.

    In terms of direct actions, he adds, “We always make sure water is available, and we try to limit direct sun exposure on employees as much as possible. When it’s more than 90oF, work in pairs. Supervisors will come out and monitor the staff. Limit outdoor time to the handling and moving of aircraft and then seek cover.”

    Gregg says their hottest location would be Singapore as it is near the equator.

    “At dnata, we take a holistic approach to heat health,” adds Mark Gibb, Senior Vice President, Safety and Standards, dnata. “We provide our team members with the necessities to stay safe in the heat – shaded and air conditioned rest areas and water to stay hydrated. Beyond this, we empower our people with education about heat stress – both what heat stress looks like and how to prevent it – and encourage everyone to look out for one another.”

    Specifically, at their home base at Dubai International Airport, he says teams working in the heat have access to shaded and air conditioned areas, called Cool Zones.

    “The dnata Cool Zones are located at key areas across Dubai International Airport and are open 24-hours a day, seven-days a week. The Cool Zones give those working in the heat a quick break to cool down, grab a drink of water, and rest,” Gibb explains.

    In Dubai, where high temperatures can soar above 100oF for half the year, he notes, “dnata's heat safety precautions are in place all year long. We know that our people have to work in challenging conditions regularly, and our goal is to ensure everyone goes home safely every day.”

    “We are aware that a lot of our jobs profiles involve hard work under challenging weather,” says Chistoph Meier, VP Group Communications, Swissport International Ltd. “We train our staff on how to take the necessary precautions to protect their health. Recommendations can be adapted based on local risk assessments.”

    With one of their hottest sites being Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Meier adds, “To give you some concrete examples, Swissport provides its staff not only with good advice, in addition to personal protective equipment (PPE), we also provide regular water distribution and try to accommodate more frequent breaks, when the conditions require.”

    As for intense sunlight, there are two concerns. First, there are the obvious effects on temperature. Air temperatures can be 15oF warmer in the sun than in the shade. Surface temperatures of concrete or asphalt in full sunlight can be well over 100oF, perhaps close to 150oF. This will certainly increase the risk of the heat-related problems.



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