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ABIH: Workers Need to Be Protected Against Asphalt Fumes

Aug. 25, 2016
Construction workers are particularly at risk for health effects caused by asphalt exposure including skin rash, sensitization, fatigue, reduced appetite, throat and eye irritation, cough and skin cancer.

The American Board of Industrial Hygiene is reminding safety professionals and managers to limit worker exposure to asphalt fumes.

More than 500,000 workers are exposed to asphalt fumes, according to OSHA. Asphalt, also known as bitumen, is found in natural deposits or can be obtained by refining crude oil. Exposure to asphalt fumes can cause serious injury and permanent damage. Those workers who may be exposed to asphalt fumes need to be aware of the potential hazards in their work environment, ABIH said.

Road construction workers particularly are at risk for exposure where asphalt primarily is used with other granular materials such as sand, gravel, or crushed stone. Asphalt also is commonly used to seal flat roofs and in waterproofing products.

“Although OSHA proposed a permissible exposure limit in the early 1990s for asphalt fumes; one does not exist today,” said Susan Ripple, CIH and ABIH chair in a statement. “It’s important to control workers’ exposure to protect their health.”

OSHA lists health effects from exposure to asphalt fumes which include headache, skin rash, sensitization, fatigue, reduced appetite, throat and eye irritation, cough and skin cancer.

In order to identify and minimize exposure, Ripple advocated for the use of Certified Industrial Hygienists who are trained to conduct risks assessments, air sampling and instrumentational analysis, chemical and biohazards, engineering controls and ventilation, health risk analysis and hazard communication.

“This knowledge and the proper use of personal protective equipment can be instrumental in reducing exposure risks to asphalt fumes and other potential workplace hazards,” she said.

The complex chemical composition of asphalt makes it difficult to identify the specific component(s) responsible for adverse health effects observed in exposed workers. Known carcinogens have been found in asphalt fumes generated at work sites, according to NIOSH.

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