FEATURE | New Opportunities in Construction Management
BY ED LIGHT, ANDREA POULIOT AND JACK SCHILL
Industrial Hygienists Needed on Construction Sites
to Protect Occupants and the Environment and Control Moisture
Industrial hygienists have long played a critical role in protecting worker health and safety on construction sites. But the recent rise of liability for mold growth, construction-related exposure con- cerns from building occupants, and regulation of the offsite envi- ronment has created new opportunities. Industrial hygienists with multi-disciplinary training and experience in problem-solving are ideally qualified to contribute to moisture management, oc- cupant protection and environmental control. However, standard
procedures may not be directly applicable to construction sites,
where effective implementation requires a flexible, team approach.
The construction process routinely exposes building materials to
moisture. Although new construction is expected to be free of obvious water damage, the potential presence of mold is a cause of
concern for developers, architects and contractors. Microbial
measurements and containment procedures typically prescribed
by industrial hygienists have limited application at construction
sites subject to ever-changing conditions and simultaneous activities. Priority actions instead often include minimizing moisture
contact, identifying water damage and specifying repairs. Detailed documentation of mold control efforts is particularly important where legal challenges are likely or where project
specifications require a moisture control program.
Although construction personnel recognize moisture as a quality control issue, susceptible materials inevitably come into contact with moisture. Where mold growth results, remediation is
often incomplete, leaving contaminated surfaces. A comprehensive approach to moisture management provides cost-effective
solutions to such problems. For example, when materials needed
to complete a roof are delayed, workers on site can begin installing drywall if it is protected by temporary plastic barriers.
Substitution of moisture-resistant drywall is another option.
An onsite moisture control coordinator will identify potential
sources of moisture, specify controls, and conduct training, in-
spection and verification. Effective implementation is generally
based on visual assessment and flexible, performance-based cor-
rective measures. While industrial hygienists often specify mold
remediation based on asbestos abatement procedures, utilizing
microbial testing for clearance, alternative approaches are better
suited to construction sites. Scheduling requirements are also
different, with resolution of mold growth by the time the project
is completed acceptable in some cases.
During renovation of occupied buildings, or when occupants move
into a new building still under construction, potential exposures
range from acute hazards to nuisance dusts and odors. Unanticipated contaminant releases at such sites can become a health hazard or, more often, may disrupt occupant activities or delay
construction. Contaminant monitoring applicable to more stable
environments often generates either false negative (e.g., failure to
detect a chemical release due to the timing, location or type of
sample collected) or false positive (e.g., over-reacting to pollutant
data) conclusions. More effective control is based on surveillance
for visible dust and detectable odors, along with verification that
control measures are in place. Response measures should be
planned in advance for unanticipated circumstances.
Even where occupant exposures are successfully controlled by
dust minimization, process substitution, or off-hours scheduling,
an effective risk communication program is necessary to counter
rumors and maintain credibility. Keep occupants informed about
construction activities and safeguards, and involve them in planning and monitoring—for example, ask them to report dusts or
A coordinator familiar with IAQ and the construction process is
essential to selection of cost-effective controls. For example, a ren-
ovation plan for an occupied school might include the following:
• Demolition to be performed behind barriers with penetrations
sealed and portable exhaust fans in the windows.