Doctor Holding a Chest X-ray of a Construction WorkerConstruction workers may count themselves lucky if they return home from a hard day’s work without any signs of injury. However, there are many work-related injuries that can take years to develop, including lung damage and respiratory conditions due to workplace exposure. Each day on the job can mean additional exposure to hazardous substances in the air, eventually resulting in severe or permanent injury.

Construction Activities That Can Lead to Breathing Problem

Although the majority of lung diseases are caused by constant and repeated exposure to dangerous inhalants, there are some chemicals that can cause lung damage from a single incident—especially if the accident involved a high concentration of the substance or prolonged exposure.

Construction workers face lung damage during a variety of activities, including: 

  • Demolition. Workers are often exposed to rotted wood, dust, mold, mildew, particulates, and other airborne building materials as they are clearing away old structures. The presence of insects or animal remains, feces, or dander can lead to further risk of reaction or infection.
  • Construction. Many necessary building operations can be completed in a fraction of the time using spray hoses, such as spray painting exteriors or applying foam insulation. Any coating, paint, foam, or other liquid applied as a spray has the potential to enter a worker’s lungs.
  • Maintenance. Chemical injuries are common in workers during all phases of construction, but are especially likely when workers use atomized paints, glues, and cleaning products.
  • Daily tasks. The daily cutting, sanding, and grinding performed on a construction site introduces potentially harmful particles into the air, such as chalk dust, sawdust, sand, and dirt. If employees are not furnished with adequate and functional respirators, particulates can enter their airways and cause irritation that eventually leads to lung scarring.

Common Lung Diseases Construction Workers May Suffer

If you have developed a cough, breathing problems, or other respiratory condition while performing your duties as a construction worker, you should know that your condition may qualify for workers compensation as an occupational illness. While workers compensation can provide the payments you need for mounting medical bills and lost wages, you will have to prove that your condition is work-related.

Some of the most common lung diseases suffered by construction employees include:

  • Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos, a fireproof mineral that has been used as insulation in both residential housing and industrial applications. When the material is disturbed (such as during demolition or restoration), its fibers may flake off into the air, causing shortness of breath and scarring of the lungs known as asbestosis. Over time, fibers that remain in the body can cause mesothelioma, a type of cancer with a high fatality rate that affects the lungs and lining of the organs.
  • COPD. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease common in smokers, but can also result from repeated exposure to airborne irritants. Over time, the lungs and airways become inflamed, making it difficult for the air sacs to stretch and take in oxygen. Workers commonly experience coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath. While there are some effective treatments for COPD, there is no cure.
  • Asthma. Construction workers may develop asthma as a result of workplace exposure, or suffer aggravation of pre-existing asthma that makes it difficult to breathe in certain circumstances. Even a small exposure to an irritant or allergen can trigger a reaction, causing a sudden onset or symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or inability to breathe.
  • Silicosis. This illness develops when a construction worker breathes in silica particles, which can penetrate into the lungs and cause inflammation and scarring. In most cases, treatment for silicosis is targeted at alleviating the symptoms, such as a chronic cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Most sufferers are unable to earn a living, and have a higher likelihood of respiratory failure or even early death.

If you have been injured on a New York City construction site, our attorneys can get you the compensation you are owed—and we do not collect any fees until after your case is won. Simply fill out our quick online contact form or call (800) 362-9329 to speak with a personal injury lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer today, or read through our FREE brochure, Hurt in a Construction Accident? You’re Not Alone.


Timothy F. Schweitzer
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Personal injury lawyer specializing in maritime, construction and railroad injury claims.