Construction physical ill health risks: Key points

Construction workers are exposed to physical ill health risks from noise, vibration, manual handling and doing repetitive tasks. You need to be aware of the significance of the ill health effects these cause and the main risk factors behind them. Below are some key points.


The key physical risk health effects in construction are:

  • Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) – MSDs are injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper / lower limbs or the back. Skilled construction and building trades are one of the occupations with the highest estimated prevalence of back injuries and upper limb disorders. Handling is also the most commonly reported cause of over seven day injuries in the industry.
  • Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) – noise is part of everyday life but construction has one of the highest rates of occupational deafness. Too much noise can cause permanent and disabling hearing damage. This often takes the form of hearing loss that gets worse over time but damage can also be caused by sudden, extremely loud noises. Regular frequent noise is also linked to tinnitus (permanent ringing in the ears).
  • Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) – HAVS is a range of conditions to the hands and arms caused by frequent exposure to vibration from hand-held power tools (such as grinders or road breakers) and hand-guided equipment (such as pedestrian controlled floor saws). This causes poor blood circulation, neurological and muscular damage to the affected areas and can permanently reduce the ability to grip properly. Construction has one of the highest rates of HAVS of all industries.

Main risk factors

The risk of getting these ill health conditions is related to a number of common factors:

  • Who – who is at risk? Think about your employees.  Who is using noisy or vibrating equipment? Is anyone lifting heavy loads or doing repetitive tasks? Has health surveillance identified anyone with existing problems that could be made worse? Is there anyone else who might be affected by the noise you are making?
  • What – what tasks are you doing? Some tasks, such as lifting blocks or kerbs can present specific dangers. The level of risk will also be influenced by how frequently someone is exposed and whether there is any variation during the day / over different days.
  • Where – where the work is taking place can also have an effect. Small and enclosed spaces increase noise levels. Having to adopt awkward postures can increase the force needed to apply and control tools. This can increase the vibration levels passing into the user's hand and arm. Similarly, awkward postures place added strain on the body when lifting or carrying.

Physical ill-health conditions are preventable if you take the right steps.

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Updated 2021-08-04