Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

Dealing with Hazardous Substances on the Construction Site

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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13 Responses to Dealing with Hazardous Substances on the Construction Site

  1. Hazardous and toxic substances are a challenge on virtually any job site. The challenge, especially for small contractors is to identify those substances and provide their crew the appropriate tools and protective gear.

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  6. workers should take these warnings seriously. don’t think “I’m tough. I can take it.” I have seen how toxic even a short exposure can be, when our son died from two sips of creek water containing chromium & other toxics from a chrome-plating plant:
    Watch out for it in cement, in sludge, and DO NOT TOUCH OR BREATHE dust from Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) green wood!

  7. I agree workers dealing with any hazardous substances should take the warnings very seriously, health and safety training is essential for workers in this type of industry, they need to be aware of any possible dangers they may be subjected to

  8. This is an important article for everyone working at a construction site, or managing a construction company. Hopefully, with most employees well aware on how to handle hazardous substances, there would be fewer accidents in construction sites. Besides dangerous chemicals and substances, there are also cases of accidents caused by improper handling of heavy machines. The deaths and injuries as a result of such human errors can be catastrophic. It is important for heavy machine equipment training schools to constantly review their safety courses and educate the employees on site. Such training schools should not only be conducted once in the employee’s life. Rather, it should be constantly taught on at least an annual basis.

  9. I stand by Vickie’s point of view when he says that workers might not be not aware of exposure to the hazardous substances and danger associated with them. YEs, i think workers at the construction site must be made aware of what could be the hazards of coming in contact with such harmful substances and hence must be provided with complete protective gear in order to avoid the consequences….Very good information for the construction site workers…..excellent job vickie..

  10. Good article. I think that people also overlook what kind of hazmat is thrown away in the garbage for both household and construction sites. Workers who end up dealing with this refuse can get themselves injured quickly without realizing it.

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