BUILT - Construction Workers' Guide

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BUILT- Building Trades Unions Ignite Less Tobacco

Summary Statement

A handbook on the dangers of smoking, how smoking interacts with respiratory hazards in the construction workplace, and tips on making the workplace safer as well as ways to stop smoking.Part of a collection. Click on the 'collection' button to access the other items.
2001

 "What I like about construction is working outside and working with my hands. I can drive through town and say, ‘Hey, I built that.' But it's a dangerous job. Since 1991, in our Local, at least twelve people have been killed. You walk onto a site and you don't know what you're breathing, and you don't know who's working with what."

This Handbook Is for Construction Workers

Many of the dangers of construction work are obvious. We’re all familiar with safety hazards like unstable scaffolding, falling objects, electric shocks and fires.

Other dangers, especially chemical hazards, are less obvious. Some are hidden. If you’re doing demolition work and breathe in asbestos, you may not notice any effect at the time, but you can develop lung cancer many years later. Other chemicals have both short-term and long-term effects. You may feel sick or dizzy right away when you work with adhesives, paints or other materials that contain solvents. If you work with these solvents for many years, they can damage your liver or nervous system. Coal tar pitch used in roofing and roadwork may irritate your eyes and nose right away and may cause cancer years later.

For construction workers who smoke, the dangers are even greater. When your body has to deal with tobacco smoke as well as the dust and other chemicals at construction sites, your risk of getting cancer, lung disease and other serious illnesses is much higher. And the effects of tobacco use are not limited to the user. Secondhand smoke causes over 53,000 deaths a year among non-smokers.

The purpose of this guide is to give you information you can use to protect yourself. The focus is on the dangers of workplace chemicals and tobacco smoke because you probably already know about the common safety hazards on your job. This guide is part of a health and safety training project that teaches people in apprenticeship and vocational education programs how to recognize chemical hazards on the job, including those from tobacco, and how to plan strategies to make the workplace safer.

Voices From the Workplace

Here are some statements about health and safety that you might hear on the job. You may agree or disagree with each one. The information after each statement will give you some facts.



Respirators and other safety equipment can be uncomfortable and slow you down. But they can also save your life!
    If toxic chemicals get into your body — through your skin or lungs — they can cause serious harm. Some chemicals can affect you right away, causing coughing, skin irritation, dizziness or other symptoms. Other chemicals cause no short-term symptoms, so there is no warning that they may cause serious long-term damage.
Don’t wait until you can smell a chemical to use your protective equipment.
    The nose is not a reliable way to measure danger. Some chemicals smell bad, but are safe. Other chemicals have no odor, but are deadly. One example is carbon monoxide — it’s odorless and invisible, but it can kill.

    The employer is responsible for making the workplace safe. But if it isn’t possible to eliminate toxics from the work environment, personal protective equipment is your last line of defense.


If you’re exposed to toxic chemicals at work, the risk to your health will be higher if you also smoke cigarettes or have to breathe someone’s secondhand smoke.
    Tobacco smoke adds harmful chemicals to those already in the work environment, increasing the risk.
    • The more toxic exposure you have, the greater your risk. Avoiding toxic chemicals on the job and toxic chemicals in cigarettes are both important.
    • The more toxic materials get into your body, the greater your risk. Cigarettes make it easier for other toxic substances to enter the body.


If you smoke, your odds of dying from lung cancer are five times higher than the odds for a non-smoker.
    Many people can name someone they know who never worked with cancer-causing chemicals, who never smoked, but who died of cancer anyway. We also know people who smoke and live long lives. These cases are exceptions because the Surgeon General has proven that cigarette smoking causes 83% of all lung cancers and about 30% of other kinds of cancer.
If you are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals on the job and also smoke, your risk of getting cancer multiplies sharply.
    Other chemicals (not just those in cigarettes) also increase your risk of cancer. There is no doubt that thousands of cancer deaths could be prevented by reducing workers’ exposure to asbestos, nickel, chromium and other toxics.


Smoking or breathing secondhand smoke increases the risk from toxic chemicals for several reasons.
    First, smoking means more chemicals for your body to handle. For example, welding on the construction site produces carbon monoxide. Tobacco smoke also contains carbon monoxide, so you’re getting a much larger dose. Long-term exposure to carbon monoxide weakens the heart.

    Also, when the chemicals in tobacco smoke combine with certain other cancer-causing substances – for example, asbestos – the combination greatly increases the risk of lung cancer. An asbestos worker who doesn’t smoke has 5 times the risk of lung cancer as the general population, while an asbestos worker who smokes has more than 50 times the risk of lung cancer.
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