Study finds link between construction work and COPD risk
Construction workers are at a “significantly higher” risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
The study was conducted by researchers at The Center for Construction Research and Training, Duke University and the University of Maryland, and included 17,941 workers involved in the Building Trades Medical Screening Program.
A total of 13.4% of participants were found to have COPD with 67.4% of those suffering from severe complications. The study found construction workers had a 1.34 times higher risk of developing COPD and a 1.61 times greater risk of developing severe COPD.
“(COPD is) a very real and frightening health threat,” Benjamin Seides, MD, Director of Interventional Pulmonology at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Chicago told Yahoo! Life, in a response to similar study published in 2015. “This disease can lead to disability and sometimes even death.”
The study assessed various risk factors by trade, time periods of trade, and Department of Energy site work, while controlling for age, gender, race/ethnicity, body mass index, and whether an individual was a smoker.
Construction fields with the highest risk factors were cement masons/bricklayers and roofers. Risk among workers employed after 1995 was found to be higher but not considered statistically relevant.
Seides told Yahoo! Life that part of the danger comes from exposure to dangerous mineral fibers such as asbestos and silica, which are often used in insulation and other building materials.
“If a worker is cutting, chipping, grinding or drilling any of these materials, it creates dust that has microscopic silica particles,” Seides said.
Other culprits include chemical irritants and airborne toxins such as paint fumes, finishers, and stripping agents. Welding also presents danger because it can often produce smoke which contains metals like aluminum, lead or arsenic, and gases such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen fluoride.
In addition to the on-site dangers, construction workers are also more likely to be cigarette smokers. A 2013 study from Harvard found that around 40% of people in construction smoke.
“When your lungs are already damaged from smoking, any further damage from dust or other occupational hazards can dramatically worsen the condition,” Indiana University Pulmonologist Marc Rovner, MD, told Yahoo! Life.
In order to protect themselves from developing COPD, Construction are instructed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to practice safe working habits, wear a respiratory mask when appropriate, get annual breathing tests and stay up to date on vaccinations, among other measures.