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Case Types We Handle
Personal Injuries
Car Accidents
Truck Accidents
Motorcycle Accidents
Bicycle Accidents
Nursing Home Abuse
Wrongful Death
Slip and Fall Accidents
Daycare Injury & Abuse
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Case Types We Handle
Personal Injuries
Car Accidents
Truck Accidents
Motorcycle Accidents
Bicycle Accidents
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Nursing Home Abuse
Wrongful Death
Slip and Fall Accidents
Daycare Injury & Abuse
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Chemical Exposure

Chemical Exposure on Construction Sites [2024 Guide]

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Written By:
Tor Hoerman
Tor Hoerman

Attorney Tor Hoerman, admitted to the Illinois State Bar Association since 1995 and The Missouri Bar since 2009, specializes nationally in mass tort litigations. Locally, Tor specializes in auto accidents and a wide variety of personal injury incidents occuring in Illinois and Missouri.

This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy and clarity by the team of writers and attorneys at TorHoerman Law and is as accurate as possible. This content should not be taken as legal advice from an attorney. If you would like to learn more about our owner and experienced injury lawyer, Tor Hoerman, you can do so here.

TorHoerman Law does everything possible to make sure the information in this article is up to date and accurate. If you need specific legal advice about your case, contact us. This article should not be taken as advice from an attorney.

An Overview of Chemical Exposure on Construction Sites

On this page, we’ll discuss chemical exposure on construction sites, dangers and risks of working close to or with hazardous chemicals, different types of toxic chemicals present on job sites, and much more.

Types and Risks of Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Construction

Chemical exposure on construction sites poses a significant risk to the health and safety of construction workers.

Construction work may inadvertently involve several hazardous chemicals, from paints and solvents to insulation materials and pesticides, which can lead to severe health complications if proper precautions are not taken.

Chemical exposure typically occurs through inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion.

Exposed workers can experience immediate health effects such as skin irritation, respiratory issues, and nausea, or long-term health consequences like cancer, neurological disorders, and reproductive system problems.

chemical exposure on construction sites; chemical exposure; hazardous chemical exposure; construction site toxic exposure

Victims of occupational exposure to toxic chemicals may be eligible for compensation for their damages.

TorHoerman Law can help you understand your legal options and determine if you qualify for a lawsuit.

Contact us for a free consultation.

You can also use the chatbot on this page to find out if you qualify for a chemical exposure lawsuit instantly.

Table of Contents

Exploring Chemical Exposure in the Construction Industry

The construction industry is notorious for its high risk of chemical exposure.

Construction workers are prone to frequent exposure to a wide array of hazardous substances due to the nature of their work, involving handling chemicals and materials of different varieties.

Whether during demolition, renovation, or new construction, workers may encounter harmful chemicals that can pose immediate or long-term health risks.

Common Types of Hazardous Chemicals Found on Construction Sites

Chemicals encountered on construction sites vary widely, depending on the type of construction work.

Common hazardous substances found on construction sites can include:

  • Asbestos: A mineral fiber used in a wide range of building materials, including insulation, shingles, and cement pipes
  • Silica: Found in sand, rock, and mineral ores used for concrete and mortar
  • Lead: Present in older paint coatings and pipes used for plumbing
  • Mercury: Contained in fluorescent lights and thermostats
  • Cadmium: Used in batteries and electrical components
  • Chromium: Found in welding fumes and chromate pigments
  • Formaldehyde: Found in adhesives, paints, coatings, and insulation materials
  • Benzene: Used in paints, solvents, and lubricants
  • Carbon Monoxide: Released from diesel engines and generators
  • Sulfuric Acid: Found in batteries and cleaning agents
  • Sodium Hydroxide: Used in concrete cleaners and paint strippers

This list is not exhaustive, as there are numerous other chemicals used in the construction industry that can pose health risks to workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created the Occupational Chemical Database to provide information on certain chemicals, including their physical properties and exposure limits.

Common Routes of Exposure

There are three primary routes of exposure to hazardous chemicals in construction.

The primary routes of exposure include:

  • Inhalation: Construction workers can breathe in the chemical particles or vapors in the air.
    • This type of exposure is common when working with paints, solvents, and other substances that release fumes.
  • Skin Contact: A hazardous chemical can come into direct contact with the skin or get absorbed through cuts or abrasions.
    • This exposure can happen when handling chemicals or working with contaminated equipment or surfaces.
  • Ingestion: Ingestion occurs when workers accidentally eat, drink, or smoke in areas with toxic substances.
    • Hazardous chemicals can seep into food or drinking water, and workers can also ingest them directly if they don’t practice proper hand hygiene after handling chemicals.

Understanding the Risks of Hazardous Chemicals and Mitigating Exposure

Understanding the risks associated with chemical exposure in construction is crucial to mitigating them and protecting worker health effectively.

Exposure to toxic chemicals can result in immediate to long-term health effects that significantly affect a worker’s quality of life and ability to work.

Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety and health of their workers by adhering to OSHA regulations and providing appropriate training and protective equipment.

Workers can also protect themselves by practicing safe work habits, using proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and following established procedures for handling and disposing of hazardous substances.

Sources of Hazardous Chemicals in Construction

Hazardous chemicals are present in many materials and products used in construction work.

Typical sources of toxic substances on construction sites include:

  • Paints and solvents
  • Adhesives and sealants
  • Insulation materials
  • Cleaning agents
  • Pesticides and herbicides

Paints and Solvents

Paints and solvents are commonly used in construction for various purposes, including cleaning surfaces, sealing joints, and protecting materials from the elements.

Many paints and solvents contain harmful chemicals such as benzene, toluene, xylene, and methanol that can pose significant health risks if not handled properly.

These materials emit toxic fumes that can be harmful upon inhalation, emphasizing the need for respiratory protection and proper ventilation in the workplace.

Adhesives and Sealants

In construction, adhesives and sealants are essential to bond materials together, fill gaps, and provide waterproofing.

These products typically contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system upon exposure.

When they come in contact with these substances, workers may experience skin and respiratory irritation, which is why it is important to use protective clothing and implement appropriate training.

Insulation Materials

Insulation materials are used extensively in construction to regulate heating and cooling systems, reduce energy costs, and provide soundproofing.

Common insulation materials such as asbestos, fiberglass, and foam can cause respiratory problems when inhaled.

Medical surveillance and strict safety protocols in handling these materials are necessary to reduce exposure risks.

Cleaning Agents

Cleaning agents are a staple in construction to remove dirt, grease, debris, and other contaminants from surfaces.

Many of these products contain hazardous chemicals such as bleach, ammonia, and hydrochloric acid that can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, and even chemical burns or reactions if not handled correctly.

Employing safe work practices and using protective equipment when working with cleaning agents can help minimize contact with these substances and reduce the risk of adverse health effects.

Pesticides and Herbicides

Pesticides and herbicides are necessary in construction to control pests, weeds, and other unwanted plants, especially during the site preparation phase.

These chemical substances can be highly toxic if ingested or absorbed through the skin, leading to acute and chronic health effects.

Employers should protect workers and reduce exposure risks by providing appropriate PPE and proper training on handling these substances.

Health Effects of Chemical Exposure

Exposure to hazardous chemicals can result in a wide range of health effects, depending on the type and level of exposure.

Health effects can range from mild, temporary symptoms to severe and chronic health issues.

Immediate or Acute Effects

Some hazardous chemicals can cause immediate or acute effects upon exposure.

Effects may include:

  • Nausea: Many chemicals can irritate the stomach lining, causing nausea and vomiting.
  • Headaches: Exposure to a toxic substance can trigger headaches due to irritation of the respiratory or nervous systems.
  • Dizziness: Chemicals such as solvents and paints emit fumes that can cause dizziness upon inhalation.
  • Eye Irritation: Exposure to chemicals, especially those in cleaning agents and pesticides, can cause eye irritation and even damage.
  • Skin Irritation: Contact with hazardous chemicals can cause irritation, redness, itching, and swelling on the skin.
  • Respiratory Irritation: Exposure to certain chemicals can irritate the respiratory tract, causing coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.
  • Burns: Some corrosive chemicals can cause chemical burns upon contact with the body, especially the skin or eyes.
  • Poisoning: Ingesting toxic substances, either accidentally or intentionally, can result in poisoning, which can have severe and even fatal consequences.

These symptoms can vary in severity and may require medical attention if they persist or worsen.

Workers who experience any adverse symptoms should seek medical care immediately and stop working with the hazardous substance.

Long-Term or Chronic Effects

Severe or lasting exposure to hazardous chemicals can result in chronic health effects that can significantly impact a worker’s quality of life.

Long-term effects may include:

  • Various Types of Cancer: The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has identified various chemicals as known human carcinogens, including asbestos, benzene, formaldehyde, and certain pesticides.
    • Exposure to these substances can increase the risk of developing different types of cancer, such as lung cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, leukemia, and malignant mesothelioma (an aggressive cancer affecting the lining of various internal organs).
  • Reproductive System Issues: Some chemicals can affect the reproductive system, causing fertility problems and birth defects in both men and women. These substances can also increase the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. Children exposed to toxic chemicals in the womb may experience developmental delays, behavioral issues, or learning disabilities.
  • Respiratory Diseases: Chronic exposure to certain chemicals can cause respiratory conditions such as asbestosis, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.
    • Workers with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as allergies or asthma may be at higher risk for developing these conditions upon exposure to hazardous chemicals.
  • Neurological Disorders: Exposure to toxic substances can affect the nervous system, causing neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and neuropathy. These conditions can result in cognitive impairment, memory loss, and physical complications.
    • Neurological disorders can also lead to physical disabilities and impair a worker’s ability to perform tasks that require fine motor skills or coordination.
  • Organ Damage: Long-term exposure to certain chemicals can damage internal organs such as the liver, kidneys, heart, or brain. This damage can lead to chronic diseases and impair organ function, resulting in various health complications and potential disability.
    • Prolonged exposure to certain substances can lead to organ failure and require extensive medical treatment or even a transplant.
  • Skin Diseases: Many chemicals can cause chronic skin diseases such as dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis. These conditions can be painful, itchy, and difficult to treat, affecting a worker’s ability to perform tasks that require manual labor or physical contact.

Some of these health effects may not manifest until years after exposure, so taking precautions and minimizing exposure risks in the workplace are essential.

Once these long-term effects occur, they may be irreversible and can impact a worker’s physical abilities and overall well-being.

Variability of Effects

Exposure to toxic chemicals can vary in severity and variability.

Variability can include:  

  • The Type of Chemical: Some chemicals are more hazardous than others and can cause different health effects depending on their properties, concentration, and route of exposure.
    • For example, asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma upon prolonged inhalation, while lead exposure can result in neurological damage through ingestion or skin contact.
  • Concentration: The amount of chemical exposure a worker receives can impact the severity of the health effects.
    • Higher concentrations of a hazardous substance can result in more severe and immediate symptoms or chronic health issues.
  • Duration of Exposure: Prolonged exposure to a toxic chemical increases the risk of developing chronic health conditions as the body experiences continuous exposure to its harmful effects.
    • For example, workers who are exposed to hazardous substances daily may have a higher risk of developing respiratory diseases than those with occasional exposure.
  • Route of Exposure: How a hazardous substance enters the body can also impact the variability of its effects. Ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact can result in different health issues as each method affects various organs and systems.
    • Inhalation is generally considered the most dangerous route of exposure as it provides direct access to the lungs and bloodstream.
  • Individual Susceptibility: Individuals may react differently to chemical exposure, depending on their overall health, underlying conditions, and genetics. Some individuals may be more sensitive and experience severe symptoms from low levels of exposure, while others may tolerate higher levels without showing any symptoms.
    • Age, gender, and lifestyle factors can also influence an individual’s response to chemical exposure.

Understanding the variability of effects is crucial in managing and preventing potential health risks associated with toxic substances.

By assessing these factors and implementing proper safety measures, employers can minimize the impact of chemical exposure on their workers’ health and well-being.

Safety Protocols and Prevention Strategies

Many chemicals are integral to various industries, and it may be challenging to eliminate them entirely.

While exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace is a pressing concern, employers can prevent it by implementing safety protocols and prevention strategies.

These measures aim to reduce or eliminate workers’ exposure to toxic chemicals, ensuring their safety and well-being.

Standard practices employers can adopt to minimize chemical hazards in the workplace include:

  • Using personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Implementing proper ventilation practices
  • Adhering to material safety data sheets (MSDS) and OSHA guidelines

Using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the first line of defense against hazardous materials (HAZMAT) in the workplace.

Employers must provide appropriate PPE to all workers who may be exposed to toxic substances during their job duties.

Standard PPE includes:

  • Protective clothing
  • Gloves
  • Respirators or face masks
  • Safety goggles or glasses
  • Hard hats or helmets

PPE can significantly reduce a worker’s exposure to hazardous substances by providing a physical barrier between the body and the chemical.

For maximum effectiveness, PPE should be used in conjunction with other safety measures.

Implementing Proper Ventilation Practices

Proper ventilation can significantly reduce the risk of exposure to hazardous substances by controlling and removing toxic vapors, gases, and dust from the air.

Regular inspection and maintenance of ventilation systems ensure they are functioning correctly.

Employers should also provide workers with proper training on operating ventilation equipment to prevent malfunctions or accidents.

Adhering to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and OSHA Guidelines

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to maintain material safety data sheets (MSDS) for all hazardous substances in the workplace.

MSDS provides information about a substance’s chemical and physical properties, potential hazards, and safety precautions.

Employers should ensure workers have access to this information, understand it, and follow proper handling procedures.

Employers should also adhere to various OSHA guidelines and regulations regarding chemical safety and hazardous materials.

These guidelines include proper training, storage, disposal, recordkeeping, emergency response procedures, and appropriate container labeling.

Legal Aspects of Chemical Exposure on Construction Sites

Using or being in close contact with hazardous chemicals in construction sites poses significant health and safety risks to workers.

Governmental agencies have enacted various laws and regulations to protect workers from exposure to toxic substances on the job.

These laws aim to ensure that employers provide a safe working environment for their workers and take necessary precautions to prevent chemical exposure.

Workers’ Rights to a Safe Working Environment

Workers have the right to a safe working environment free from hazardous chemical exposure.

Employers are legally obligated to provide workers with the necessary training, equipment, and information to ensure their safety.

They must also comply with federal, state, and local laws and regulations regarding chemical safety in the workplace.

Potential for Compensation

Workers exposed to toxic chemicals on a construction site may experience various physical and mental health issues.

If these health issues are directly caused by chemical exposure in the workplace, workers may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages through workers’ compensation laws.

Affected workers may seek compensation through workers’ compensation claims or personal injury lawsuits.

Importance of Legal Help

Given the complexities surrounding chemical exposure cases in the construction industry, victims are highly encouraged to seek legal advice.

Experienced attorneys can advocate for workers’ rights, assess liability, gather evidence, and pursue appropriate legal action to secure fair compensation for occupational exposure.

Lawyers can also provide guidance to employers on implementing proper safety measures and preventing future incidents.

TorHoerman Law: Construction Site Attorneys

Chemical exposure on construction sites presents significant risks to worker health and safety.

At TorHoerman Law, we understand the devastating impact of occupational exposure and are committed to protecting workers’ rights.

Our team of experienced attorneys specializes in workplace safety and toxic tort litigation, advocating for justice for victims.

If you or a loved one has been exposed to hazardous chemicals on a construction site, contact us for a free consultation.

You can also use the chatbot on this page to find out if you qualify for a chemical exposure lawsuit instantly.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are Common Sources of Chemical Exposure on Construction Sites?

    Common sources of chemical exposure on construction sites include direct handling of chemicals like solvents, asbestos, and pesticides, or coming into contact with toxic substances present in materials or waste.

    Hazardous chemicals can also be released from disturbed soil or during the demolition and manipulation of old building materials containing harmful substances like lead or carbon monoxide.

  • What health risks are associated with chemical exposure in construction?

    Health risks associated with chemical exposure in construction range from immediate health effects such as skin irritation and respiratory problems to long-term consequences like cancer, birth defects, and other serious illnesses affecting the reproductive system.

    Chronic exposure to certain chemicals can lead to significant health degradation over time.

  • What types of toxic chemicals are commonly found on construction sites?

    Common toxic chemicals found on construction sites include asbestos, lead, silica, and various volatile organic compounds.

    Workers may also encounter hazardous substances like formaldehyde, benzene, and various toxic industrial glues and paints, which can pose severe health risks if handled improperly.

  • How are chemical hazards regulated in the construction industry?

    Chemical hazards in the construction industry are regulated by occupational safety and health agencies, such as OSHA in the United States.

    Regulations include requirements for maintaining Material Safety Data Sheets for hazardous substances, implementing proper ventilation, providing appropriate training, and ensuring the use of personal protective equipment to minimize worker exposure.

  • What measures can workers take to minimize chemical exposure?

    To minimize chemical exposure, workers should use personal protective equipment such as gloves, goggles, and respiratory protection.

    Ensuring proper ventilation when handling chemicals, following safety procedures for storage and disposal, and participating in medical surveillance and training programs are crucial.

    Employers must also provide first aid facilities and information on how to handle exposure incidents to protect workers’ health.

Written By:
Tor Hoerman

Tor Hoerman

Owner & Attorney - TorHoerman Law

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