According to reports, approximately 201 non-fatal incidents were caused by exposure to harmful gasses in 2020. Unfortunately, eight deaths occurred during some of these incidents. These deaths and related injuries have made it abundantly clear that harmful gasses in an occupational setting, like on construction sites, are severely dangerous, and the risks must be managed.
Yet, what gas risks lead to injuries and fatalities on construction sites, and how can they be better managed to prevent dangerous situations? In our article, we will discuss these risks and how to detect harmful gasses in the workplace to better protect workers on construction sites.
According to experts, the construction industry consistently ranks globally as one of the most dangerous work environments. In fact, OSHA reports that about one in five workers die of a work-related injury in this sector, and the World Risk Poll has determined that this industry has the second-highest workplace injury rate worldwide.
One of the causes of construction worker fatalities and injuries is encountering harmful gasses. Unfortunately, these encounters have become commonplace, meaning construction workers can become desensitized to the various safety controls and risks. Below we’ve briefly detailed some of the gas risks that construction sites need to monitor.
Several gases are found in confined spaces at construction sites, but the ones most at risk of causing injuries and illnesses are oxygen, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide. These gases should always be included in an effective confined space gas monitoring system; we have explained why below.
Too much or too little oxygen in a confined space can be incredibly harmful to the health of construction workers for numerous reasons. If there is too little oxygen in a confined space, workers can become faint and are susceptible to becoming unconscious, which could lead to fall injuries.
In addition, too much oxygen at levels above 21% can make a confined space extremely flammable, and combustible materials can burn excessively when ignited. Moreover, levels above 23.5% can be fatal.
It’s believed that carbon monoxide is the single most common cause of fatal construction site gas poisoning. Unfortunately, because this gas is colourless and odourless, it’s nearly impossible to detect without a gas detector. It’s also particularly hazardous in confined spaces and locations with poor ventilation.
There is a high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if there is a construction site that utilizes heavy gas-powered or propane equipment, vehicles, boilers, furnaces, and heaters.
Some people call hydrogen sulfide sewer gas because of its rotten egg smell. This type of colourless construction site gas is highly flammable and is typically the product of decaying organic matter.
How sick a construction worker becomes after exposure to hydrogen sulfide depends on how long they were in contact with the gas. If it is a prolonged period and a high concentration, it could quickly lead to death.
According to experts, construction workers who work in recessed confined spaces like storage tanks and pits are more at risk of being exposed to hydrogen sulfide and its side effects. That’s why construction workers working in manholes, sewers, and agricultural spaces must have fully functioning gas detectors that can accurately detect this poisonous gas. Moreover, implementing proper ventilation systems, including the use of Provac vacuum pumps, can help mitigate the buildup of hazardous gases in these confined spaces, ensuring a safer working environment for construction personnel.
Not many people realize the havoc fine dust or small particles can wreak on a person’s body. In the construction industry, fine dust or liquid droplets, known as particle pollution or particulate matter, are a real risk to workers. PM2.5 and PM10 are particle sizes of key concern on construction sites.
For example, the exhaust from diesel-powered machinery and vehicles emits fine particles (PM2.5). In contrast, PM10 is often generated during bulk material operation on construction sites. This typically includes cutting building materials, demolitions, soil, aggregate stockpiling, and crushing and grinding operations.
Yet where does the risk come in? Simple. Liquid droplets in the PM2.5 size range from gases that travel deeply into a person’s respiratory tract and make their way into an individual’s lungs.
Exposure to these particles can result in construction workers suffering short-term health effects such as nose, eye, lung, and throat irritation, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, runny nose, and shortness of breath. Long-term exposure results in long-term health effects like the worsening of health conditions such as asthma and heart disease.
In fact, according to various scientific studies, it’s been determined that increases in PM2.5 exposure lead to increased emergency department visits, hospital admissions, and deaths. Scientists have also summarized that long-term exposure to fine dust particles and liquid droplets could be associated with reduced lung function and a higher likelihood of an individual developing heart disease or cancer.
One of the biggest risks construction workers face is nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure. NO2 is generated on construction sites via gasoline-powered or diesel engines in loaders, bulldozers, mobile cranes, industrial trucks, excavators, and static engines in pumps and electricity generators.
More significantly, NO2 is most often generated from idling engines and is the biggest contributor to personal exposure. In recent years, scientific evidence has linked short-term NO2 exposure to increased hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses and respiratory symptoms in those with asthma.
As is evidenced, gases pose serious risks to construction workers. Often gases are found naturally occurring at construction sites, used for processes, and generated from equipment and vehicles. Unfortunately, exposure to these gasses is hazardous to workers’ health, so we need to track these gases to negate the risks.
Understanding where gasses are coming from and detecting them can protect the lives of construction workers on sites. Calibration and maintenance are a thing of the past, but fortunately, there are more effective ways to track gasses at construction sites.
Below we have discussed a few ways harmful gasses can be tracked at construction sites, and some might surprise you.
A gas monitoring network is arguably the best way to track harmful gasses at a construction site. Modern gas monitory systems utilize a network of cloud-connected devices, including a complex variety of personal wearable devices, area monitors, and online dashboards.
This entire network of devices works with one another to provide full visibility of gasses, thus providing safety to construction workers. Yet, how does it all come together to provide a clear picture of whether or not workers are at risk of harmful gases?
Simple – the data compiled and streamed from each of these devices in the network deliver powerful reporting capabilities to a supervisor’s fingertips.
With a fully operational gas monitoring network at a construction site, a supervisor or manager can recieve real-time compliance status messages that ensure bump and calibration processes are completed successfully for the whole fleet of devices. This network will also show the charge levels of all devices, whether or not they are turned on, and if they are actively being used throughout a shift – ensuring a worker’s safety.
Often for construction worker safety, a gas detector is the first line of defence when facing unknown environmental hazards that are invisible to an individual’s senses. Due to this, most companies utilize portable gas detectors as part of an employee’s PPE equipment to keep them safe.
These gas monitors are known as a personal four-gas monitor system. They continuously evaluate a construction worker’s working environment for multiple gas hazards like oxygen, NO2, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide.
Ultimately, these systems provide comprehensive gas detection coverage to prevent injuries, illnesses, and death from toxic or explosive ambient gasses.
Another simple way to monitor and detect harmful gasses on construction sites is to use area detectors specifically designed to monitor VOCs. Area monitoring is set up on the perimeters of a construction site and is used to protect a large group of workers.
Unlike other methods of tracking and detecting dangerous gases, area monitors can withstand harsh weather conditions and can be left on site for long durations. Additionally, these nifty devices come in broad size ranges with different sensor types, so they’re ideal for various construction sites.
You now know that there are numerous serious gas risks on construction sites. The best way to help reduce these risks is to monitor them with a gas monitoring network, usually consisting of cloud-operated portable gas detectors and area monitors.
A gas monitoring system with reliable gas detectors helps businesses stay compliant and avoid hefty fines. In addition, monitoring harmful gasses also ensures construction workers are kept safe and alive.