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Dangers of Respiratory Disease at Construction Sites



By Marcelle P. Villegas

“The deadliest things in the world are usually invisible to the naked eye.” This is a statement from a social media advertisement of Pinoy Builder, a website about infrastructure, design and construction industry in the Philippines. Their informative post aims to spread awareness of preventing respiratory illness while working in construction sites, in celebration of National Lung Month last August. Even after August and due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, our mindfulness in protecting our respiratory tract remains essential.

August was declared as National Lung Month by former President Ferdinand Marcos on 24 July 1978 through the Presidential Proclamation No. 1761. This decree was signed by the former president in recognition of the fact that lung disease such as pneumonia and tuberculosis continue to exact a huge toll of precious lives among Filipinos, especially the low-income group.

Those working in construction sites are quite a vulnerable group of labourers with regards to lung disease or infection.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, protecting our lungs is not only a matter of occupational safety but more so now for survival. Having healthy lungs is an essential part of having a quality life and maintaining employment. The Philippine College of Chest Physicians said, "The COVID-19 pandemic has created a truly unprecedented situation which affects us all." They also announced that the 25th of September is World Lung Day. "World Lung Day (WLD), 25 September, is a day for lung health advocacy and action, an opportunity for us all to unite and promote better lung health globally." [1]

The Philippine College of Chest Physicians (PCCP) is a premier organization of lung specialists in the Philippines. They organize events and ad campaigns to increase public awareness among lay Filipinos about common pulmonary conditions and with an emphasis on the importance of preventive health care in maintaining healthy lungs.

So what are the common toxic substances in a construction site that are harmful for the lungs? Pinoy Builder website enumerated four, namely: sawdust, asbestos, molds and cement dust. These substances are not only fine particles that are abrasive on the respiratory tract and eventually the lung tissues. They also contain toxic substances that should not be present inside the body in the first place.

Inhaling sawdust or wood dust into the lungs can cause breathing problems and might lead to lung disease such as occupational asthma or even lung cancer.

Asbestos when inhaled can seriously damage the lungs by scarring the lung tissues. (Imagine fine, sharp star-like particles inside the lungs whose tissues are soft and fragile.) The condition is called asbestosis which normally happens after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years.

The symptoms of asbestosis are persistent cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, extreme tiredness, pain in the chest and shoulders, and in advanced cases, having swollen fingertips. The condition also leads to severe fibrosis and puts the patient in a high risk of mesothelioma or cancer of the lung pleura. (The pleura is a vital part of the respiratory tract whose role is to cushion the lungs and reduce the friction between the lungs, rib cage and chest cavity.) It can be a fatal condition where a patient with asbestos-related lung cancer has a life expectancy of 16 months.

Molds are also dangerous for the lungs or respiratory tract because it may trigger asthma attacks and other upper and lower respiratory problems. Even those who are not sensitive to molds may develop allergic reactions to it such as irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs. The mold Aspergillus fumigatus can cause an infection called aspergillosis which is marked by wheezing, difficulty breathing, coughing, chest pain and fever.

Cement is also harsh on the lungs. Prolonged and repeated exposure can lead to a disabling and fatal lung disease called silicosis. Generally, silicosis is a lung disease that develops when a person inhales dust that contains silica. Those are tiny crystals found in sand, rock, mineral ores, cement, etc. Repeated inhalation of silica can lead to scarring of the lung tissues that make it hard to breath.

With all these dangers at the workplace, plus the threat of COVID-19, it is important to prioritize health and occupational safety in your company. Providing the proper protective gear for all employees is a good investment because having healthy workers is an asset and adds to the success factor of your infrastructure project.


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Reference:

[1] Retrieved from Philippine College of Chest Physicians website - https://philchest.org/xp/

Photo credit:

Caption by Pinoy Builder for the August - National Lung Month social media post

Cement dust photo - http://yonsha.jp/

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