Dealing with Hazardous Substances on the Construction Site

Originally posted 2015-06-30 10:39:37.

HAZMAT Plans & ProgramsFor this week’s Guest Post Friday here at Construction Law Musings, we welcome Vickie Lane. Vickie is the primary point of contact for Business Development with HAZMAT Plans & Programs, a consulting and training firm that also works under the name of HP&P Safety. Vickie’s functions with HP&P include extensive pre-project research and support though estimating, planning and cost administration. Vickie attended Ohio State University and now enjoys her role as a first time grandmother and spending free time up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Vickie can be reached at or on Twitter @HAZMATPlans and @hpandpsafety.

Most of us perceive hazards on a construction site to be those that can be readily visualized or perhaps easily imagined, like trench cave-ins or falls from heights. These are the obvious, but what about the nocuous, microscopic hazards that can’t be seen by the human eye, but can destroy the health of your workers? Welcome to the world of hazardous materials.

The inherent danger associated with hazardous substances is workers might not be not aware of exposure. Think of a snake in the dark scenario. If it is a rattlesnake, you have warning before the bite. A cobra on the other hand gives no such warning and the bite can be fatal. So it can be with hazardous and toxic substances.

A few things to know:

1. OSHA does not use the term HAZMAT. OSHA refers to hazard materials as “hazardous and toxic substances”. HAZMAT is the term used by the DOT to refer to hazardous materials in transport.

2. Standards that can apply to hazardous substance include OSHA, EPA, RCRA, your state’s Department of Health and Environment, and if in transport to or from locations, large quantities fall under DOT and PHMSA. NIOSH has a wealth of health and safety information on work around toxic and hazardous substances.

NIOSH also provides studies of workplaces if workers or employers feel there has been exposure to hazardous and toxic substances. This work is done under their Health Hazard Evaluation Program. More information on the HHE program can be found at

3. Hazardous substances can be found in many shapes and forms including particulate, gas, vapor, mist, liquid, and dust. Workers’ exposure to toxic substances can come from inhalation, skin contact, ingestion or eye contact. This is where it is extremely important for contractor adherence to OSHA’s standards for Personal Protective Equipment. The right gloves and respirators can be life savers.

4. Identify the hazardous substances in your workplace. Lead, Asbestos, Silica, Isocynates are a few of the most common forms of toxic substances found on a construction site. Excessive exposure to any of these can result in respiratory problems, lung damage, nervous system damage and future respiratory arrest……also, don’t forget the dust on your work clothes can endanger your family’s health too.

5. Once again, remember multiple regulatory standards may apply. OSHA standards apply with a current National Emphasis Program on Asbestos, Lead and Silica. The EPA and “Your State” Department of Health also have regulations with an emphasis on Lead and Asbestos in construction. Disregards regulations on work around on any of these hazardous substances and you could be looking at fines and penalties from OSHA, EPA and “Your State” – Not to mention the potential of lawsuits from workers and possible public exposure!

6. Earthwork may involve soil contaminated with heavy metals or minerals. OSHA requires HAZWOPER training for any workers who may be exposed to hazardous substances. 24 Hour training is required for the Occasional Site Worker such as project managers or truck drivers. 40 Hour HAZWOPER training is required for those who actually have the potential to exposure while working in the contaminated soil…..when calling for training, remember HAZWOPER not HAZMAT training. We consultants can be easily confused!

7. Keep a copy of MSDS sheets at the jobsite and in the main office. Also, be sure to have a Hazard Communication Program and if need be, Respirator Program in place. Employees who require respirators for work will also need to be trained and Fit-Tested. A medical evaluation is required prior to fit-testing for all employees whose work will involve mandatory use of respirators and is suggested for those who voluntarily use elastomeric face pieces.

8. Ensure that your Emergency Action Plan is up-to-date and in place. Think BP. Need I say more? An EAP not only can protect your workers but our environment.

Work around hazardous and toxic substances can be complex and complicated. Proper planning, education and PPE will help to protect your workers from that “snake in the dark”. For more information, OSHA 29 CFR 1926 Subpart Z, Toxic and Hazardous Substances and OSHA 29 CFR 1926.65, Gases, vapors, fumes, dusts and mists.

As always Vickie and I welcome your comments below. Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Fridays at Construction Law Musings.

Dealing with Hazardous Substances on the Construction Site

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