Summary Statement

A manual that helps a trainer provide information on a variety of roadway hazards, such as electrical, falls, slips and trips and ergonomics. Part of a collection. Click on the 'collection' button to access the other items.

This document is one in a program produced under an OSHA grant by a consortium of the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund N.A, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the American Road and Transportation Builders Assn, and the National Asphalt Pavement Assn. All of the documents from this set that are on eLCOSH can be found by clicking on Job Site, Heavy construction, and scrolling to the Street & highway heading. Or to download a complete version of the computerized program, go to

How Do Health Hazards Harm Us?

Toxic substances can enter the body by 3 routes. The effects of toxic substances may be:
  • Short-term or acute — effects such as eye irritation or dizziness.
  • Delayed or chronic — effects such as cancer or lung disease.
Some toxics are a common part of the construction environment, such as silica. Others have special uses, such as sealants and paints.

How Harmful Is Silica?

Silica is common but can be very harmful. Silica dust is:
  • Found in many construction dusts such as concrete and rock.
  • High exposure tasks include sand blasting, rock drilling, and cutting concrete.
  • Long-term exposure leads to fibrotic (lung-scarring) disease.
  • Long-term exposure increases the risk of cancer.
Prevent silica exposure by:
  • Reducing airborne dust through ventilation and wetting.
  • Using NIOSH-approved toxic dust respirators.
Fig. HH-1
Fig. HH-1. Toxic substances can enter the body by 3 routes.

Fig. HH-2.
Fig. HH-2. Silica is common but can be very harmful.


This is not designed to be a Hazard Communication course. These are just some of the health hazards you could face in highway work. These are the major health hazards, but there are others.

OSHA PEL: 5 mg/m3 respirable.

More About Silica

Silicosis is permanent lung damage caused by breathing dust containing extremely fine particles of crystalline silica. Crystalline silica is found in materials such as concrete, masonry, and rock. When these materials are made into a fine dust and suspended in the air, breathing in these fine particles can produce lung damage.

Silicosis can be totally disabling and may lead to death.

When workers inhale crystalline silica, the lung tissue reacts by developing fibrotic nodules and scarring around the trapped silica particles. This fibrotic condition of the lung is called silicosis. If the nodules grow too large, breathing becomes difficult and death may result. Silicosis victims are also at high risk of developing active tuberculosis.

According to a 2002 NIOSH hazard review, Health Effects of Occupational Exposure to Respirable Silica, recent epidemiologic studies demonstrate that workers have a significant risk of developing chronic silicosis when they are exposed to respirable crystalline silica over a working lifetime at any of these current exposure limits:
  • OSHA permissible exposure level (PEL),
  • the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MNSHA) PEL, or
  • the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) recommended exposure limit (REL).


The estimated risk of getting silicosis after a 45-year working lifetime is 47% to 90% with cumulative silica exposures at the current OSHA PEL..

How Harmful Is Asphalt?

Asphalt fumes and skin contact can be harmful:
  • Asphalt fumes may cause eye, respiratory irritation.
  • Hot asphalt can severely burn skin.
To prevent exposure to asphalt:
  • Work upwind whenever possible.
  • Maintain a lower temperature to minimize fumes.
  • Use ventilation on paving machines.
  • Wear gloves, long sleeves to prevent skin contact.
How Harmful Is Wet Concrete?

Wet concrete can cause dermatitis and skin burns. Dermatitis can be:
  • irritation from caustic concrete or
  • an allergic reaction to chemicals in concrete.
We can prevent dermatitis and burns by:
  • wearing long-sleeved gloves,
  • keeping concrete out of our boots,
  • changing gloves and boots when contaminated inside,
  • washing hands in clean water with pH-neutral soap,
  • using a neutralizing or buffering product to neutralize the caustic pH of the wet concrete,
  • protecting cuts with bandages, and
  • wearing eye protection.
Fig. HH-3
Fig. HH-3. Asphalt fumes and skin contact can be harmful.

Fig. HH-4A
Fig. HH-4A. Wet concrete can cause dermatitis and skin burns.


Ask trainees: Do you know anyone who was burned by asphalt?

Suggested Treatment for Asphalt Burn:
-Completely submerge affected area in clean water.
-DO NOT apply ice directly to the affected area.
-DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE ASPHALT CEMENT with products containing solvents or ammonia. -Natural separation will occur in about 48-72 hours.
-If necessary for early removal, soak bandage in mineral oil and place over affected area for 2 to 3 hours.

Ask trainees: Have you ever known anyone who had a skin problem from wet concrete?

How Harmful Is Lead?

Lead damages nervous and reproductive systems. Lead is:
  • a toxic metal found in paints on bridge renovation and
  • a dust that can be carried home and poison your family.
We can prevent lead poisoning by:
  • removing paint before cutting or welding,
  • using long handled torches for cutting,
  • using local exhaust ventilation,
  • wearing the proper respirator,
  • washing face and hands before eating, smoking, or drinking,
  • using long handled torches for cutting,
  • showering and changing clothes before leaving work, and
  • getting your blood lead level tested periodically to assure you are not exposed.
Fig. HH-4B
Fig. HH-4B. To prevent dermatitis from wet concrete, wash hands in clean water with pH-neutral soap. Also consider using a buffering product to neutralize the caustic pH of the wet concrete.

Fig. HH-5
Fig. HH-5. Use long handled torches for cutting to prevent lead damage to nerves.

More About Lead

Lead is very toxic if you breathe or swallow it. The first signs of poisoning are:
  • weakness,
  • joint pain,
  • weight loss,
  • loss of sleep,
  • low blood pressure,
  • memory loss, and
  • stomach upset.
Continued exposure can result in:
  • kidney damage,
  • anemia,
  • high blood pressure,
  • damage to the reproductive system (impotence, sterility),
  • damage to the fetus (if pregnant), and
  • reduced sex drive.
Severe exposures can cause damage to the central nervous system and even death.

Are There Other Health Hazards?

Most other health hazards in road construction can be avoided with basic protections. Other health hazards in road work include:
  • common substances, such as solvents and CO, and
  • special products, such as sealants and paints.
Avoiding health hazards means:
  • Reviewing the product Material Safety Date Sheets (MSDS).
  • Limiting exposure as much as possible.
  • Staying upwind of hazardous exposures.
  • Making sure that hazard controls such as fans are working.
  • Wearing protective equipment such as respirators, skin coverings.
  • Promptly reporting any health complaints to your supervisor.
Fig. HH-6
Fig. HH-6. Most other health hazards in road construction can be avoided with basic protections.


Ask trainees: What is CO? (Answer: carbon monoxide.)

OSHA PEL: 50 parts per million.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas given off by internal combustion engines. In confined spaces it can build up and kill construction workers by asphyxiation.

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