Occupational Hazards of Construction Skilled Trades
Carpenters, ironworkers, locksmiths, and welders—what do they all have in common? These are all skilled trades under the umbrella category of construction. Canada has more than 200 skilled trades, roughly divided into four categories. The construction category is the biggest: almost 50% of all skilled trades are considered construction trades.
Construction skilled trades are many and varied, ranging from plumber to painter, cabinetmaker to construction electrician, metal fabricator to mobile crane operator. These jobs are found wherever building construction and maintenance is happening, in both urban centers and rural communities. The plentiful opportunities can be enticing, but if you are seriously considering this career path, you need to be aware of the occupational hazards.
Physical and Chemical Hazards
Constructing a building is an enormously complex process, and everyone on a construction site is exposed to a certain degree of risk. Almost all construction tradespeople are at risk for physical hazards. These include noise, heat and cold, radiation, vibration, and barometric pressure. Noise, for example, is dangerous in a few different ways. The roar from all the machines a construction site needs can cause hearing loss, and it can mask communications such as safety instructions.
Chemical hazards are another significant risk to construction workers, who may inhale, ingest, or touch various dangerous substances. This can lead to serious illnesses. Painters exposed to lead can develop neurologic disorders, and tradespeople who work with cement may develop skin allergies.
General and Specific Hazards
Musculoskeletal disorders and stress are considered general hazards: they are common to almost all employees on a construction site, from low-level part-timers to supervisors.
More specific occupational hazards are determined by the specific trade. For example, electricians may be exposed to heavy metals in solder fumes and asbestos dust, and they may be forced to work in awkward positions and to carry heavy loads.
In addition to the general and specific hazards of a construction skilled trade, construction workers must deal with bystander risk. This is the additional risk that comes from working close to another skilled tradesperson in the relatively small spaces of a construction site. For example, asbestos dust inhalation is not a hazard associated with roofers, but they are at risk if an electrician is working nearby.
A certain degree of risk is inherent in every occupation. If you are looking for a job entirely without risk, you may be better off trying to win the lottery. The construction skilled trades are not without their own risks, general and specific. For any readers considering this career path, you are now equipped to make a more informed decision.