Safety and health on construction and renovation sites has always been a challenge due to the dynamic nature of these workplaces. Numerous contractors and trades performing a variety of processes and tasks, varying equipment and tools in use, building materials and configuration changing as the building progresses, and various chemicals being applied all contribute to safety and health hazards. There is a difference between "safety" and "health" and indoor air quality (IAQ) falls under the health category and the "hidden illnesses" that must be prevented.
Indoor air concerns are not just related to everyday office building settings. Construction and renovation projects present numerous IAQ problems that the building owner, design architect and engineer, construction manager, general contractor, and subcontractors must address. IAQ exposures for construction workers and other employees during these projects need to be identified and addressed using a team approach. A proactive stance to identify and remove IAQ concerns before they affect the workplace is a big part of that approach.
Extensive renovation and construction projects often result in various IAQ concerns, including the use of chemicals such as glues and mastics, solvents, sealers, and other products. Equipment and furniture can "off-gas" chemicals such as formaldehyde. The building may contain sources of IAQ concerns, such as asbestos or lead-based paint. Processes used to complete the work can result in IAQ concerns such as hexavalent chromium from welding fumes. Any strange odor during renovation projects can set off a series of complaints.
Renovation projects often present the need to complete work in areas closely adjacent to active, non-construction employees who may not be used to the odors, dust, and noise associated with these types of projects. The white powder on the desk of an employee may be drywall dust to the construction worker, but in these days of heightened awareness to personal protection and security, the office worker may perceive that dust to be asbestos, anthrax, or mold.
Due to a variety of reasons, including increased regulations, overzealous newspaper and television reporting, the magnitude of information available on the Internet, and the rise of the social media, employees are more educated on IAQ issues, and they have grown to expect good IAQ at work. This mix of increased knowledge, high expectations, and decreased tolerance leads to a psychosocial response that must be addressed early.
In new construction or remodeling, efforts must be made to control poor air quality and to rethink the use of some building materials and techniques. The early identification of these chemicals, products and processes is key to avoiding the delays and liabilities resulting from improper containment of these chemicals. Early identification of the issues will allow for adequate.