Preventing Health Issues as Construction Workers Age
Construction work can be incredibly taxing on the body. It’s easier to recover from the physical demand of construction work when you’re younger, but not so much as you age. Older construction workers are at risk for several injuries that can affect the length of their careers and overall health.
Fortunately, construction work can be a long-term, sustainable career path, so long as you acknowledge and prepare for the issues you might face as you get older.
Take note of these five long-term injuries construction workers are prone to and tips for preventing them.
Respiratory and Lung Issues
If there’s one thing you can count on in construction, it’s dust. Construction sites are full of dust and asbestos. Silica, wood and gypsum dust are the most dangerous to inhale, as these can cause breathing difficulties, asthma and an increased risk of developing lung cancer.
The longer you’re on the job, the more time you spend inhaling potentially fatal dust particles. Also, our lung function tends to decline as we age. So, older employees’ lungs may not be able to fight off dangerous toxins like younger workers.
Using green building materials can help reduce your exposure to airborne toxins. These materials don’t have dangerous chemical compounds in them, so there aren’t as many harmful dust particles released into the air. Ingesting what ends up in the air isn’t as dangerous either.
Construction workers should also wear masks and disposable clothing to protect themselves from airborne toxins. Never eat, drink, or smoke in an active construction site. And know the signs of lung issues so that you can get to your doctor promptly if they arise.
Worsened Chronic Conditions
According to the National Council on Aging, almost 95% of older adults have one chronic condition, while 80% have two or more. Chronic conditions become more difficult to manage as we age, and work can make them worse.
For example, arthritis is a common chronic condition among older adults. It can cause joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. All of the lifting, standing, pushing, pulling and carrying in construction work can ignite arthritis symptoms, impacting how you handle the physical demands of working.
To ensure chronic conditions don’t hinder your ability to work in the future, make sure you’re taking advantage of preventative health services. Prioritize exercise and eating well. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep to give your body ample time to recover.
A healthy lifestyle is key to preventing chronic conditions that can destabilize your construction career as you age.
Construction sites are noisy. From jackhammers to cement cutters to electric saws to construction vehicles, you won’t be away from noise when working on any construction site.
Unfortunately, being exposed to deafening noises and working with exceptionally loud equipment regularly does nothing good for your hearing. You can develop tinnitus, acoustic shock syndrome, or lose your hearing ability altogether.
And don’t forget about age-related hearing loss. You can slowly lose hearing in one or both ears as you get older and changes in your inner ear occur. Between the constant exposure to loud noises and the risk of age-related hearing, protecting your ears is a must in construction.
Always wear some sort of ear protection, whether it be ear muffs, ear plugs, or semi-insert/canal caps. Also, take your breaks and lunches away from the construction site. Pay attention to your work schedule as well to ensure you aren’t spending more time at noisy construction sites than you need to.
As mentioned above, there’s a lot of lifting, standing, carrying, pushing, pulling and assembling in construction. This means your body is constantly moving and working to accommodate this physical demand.
Older construction workers aren’t as flexible and able as they were at a young age. So, if they aren’t using good ergonomic practices and posture, their risk for musculoskeletal injuries skyrockets. These injuries include:
- Bone fractures
- Herniated Disc
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Tension neck syndrome
- Muscle strains and low back injuries
Learn proper ergonomic practices to avoid musculoskeletal injuries. For example, lift and push with your legs, not your arms or back. Tighten your abs when pulling something. Slightly bend your knees when standing rather than lock them. Don’t overuse your neck or keep it in an awkward position for too long. Ask for help when moving heavy items.
Doing the above will ensure musculoskeletal injuries aren’t a part of your future.
Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)
The National Library of Medicine defines Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) as “a collection of sensory, vascular and musculoskeletal symptoms caused by repetitive trauma from vibration.” Numbness, tingling and ischemic episodes are common symptoms of HAVS that can become permanent.
Construction workers are constantly using vibrating tools like jackhammers and chainsaws. The longer you’re in a construction career, the more you’ll use these tools, increasing your chances of developing HAVS.
You need your hands in good condition for as long as possible if you want to sustain a career in construction. So, protect them by:
- Limiting the time you use vibrating equipment
- Minimizing the load your hands, wrists and fingers handle
- Using high-quality equipment that intentionally limits vibration
- Keeping your hands warm and dry to encourage good blood circulation
- Participating in ongoing safety training to ensure proper use of equipment
Protect your hands, wrists and fingers like your career depends on it. Because it does.
As we get older, our bodies change. Age-related injuries and illnesses can arise that impact our careers. If you’re in construction, make note of the injuries and conditions above that you can potentially face as you age and use the tips to prevent them and enable a lasting career in construction.