404 – Managing Hazardous Materials on Construction Sites: Best Practices and Tips

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Handling hazardous materials on construction sites is a critical issue that affects the health and safety of workers. In a recent episode of The Site Shed podcast, host Matt Jones spoke with Taryn Toic, an industrial hygienist, about the challenges and best practices for managing hazardous materials like asbestos, silica dust, and lead. Taryn provided valuable insights into the role of industrial hygienists, the importance of awareness and education in the trades, and practical steps for ensuring safety on job sites.

Understanding Industrial Hygiene

Industrial hygiene is a field focused on anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace exposures to hazardous materials. Taryn explained that industrial hygienists deal with various exposures, including chemical, physical, biological, and ergonomic hazards. These can range from vapors, fumes, and dust to heat, noise, and repetitive movements.

For tradespeople, some of the most relevant hazards include asbestos, silica dust, and lead. Taryn shared her experience in the field, highlighting the importance of monitoring and assessing these exposures to recommend effective controls.

The Importance of Awareness and Training

One of the key points Taryn emphasized was the need for increased awareness and training among tradespeople. Many workers might not realize the potential hazards present in the materials they work with daily. For example, older buildings often contain asbestos, which can be found in insulation, drywall, and other construction materials. Silica dust, produced from cutting or grinding materials like concrete and stone, is another significant hazard. Lead, commonly found in old paint and ceramics, also poses serious health risks.

Taryn suggested that tradespeople take the time to educate themselves about these materials. Short courses and training programs can provide valuable information on how to identify and manage these hazards. By understanding what to look out for, workers can better protect themselves and their colleagues.

Practical Steps for Managing Hazardous Materials

When it comes to managing hazardous materials on construction sites, Taryn recommended several practical steps:

  1. Conducting Risk Assessments: Before starting any project, it’s essential to conduct a thorough risk assessment. This involves identifying potential hazards and determining the best ways to control them.

  2. Using the Hierarchy of Controls: This framework includes different levels of control measures, from eliminating the hazard entirely to using personal protective equipment (PPE) as a last resort. Taryn stressed that PPE should always be the last line of defense.

  3. Implementing Engineering Controls: These controls can help reduce or eliminate exposure to hazardous materials. For example, using local exhaust ventilation to capture dust at the source or using wet methods to suppress dust during cutting and grinding activities.

  4. Following Administrative Controls: These are policies and procedures designed to minimize exposure. Examples include scheduling work to avoid exposure during peak periods, providing training, and ensuring proper maintenance of equipment.

  5. Using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): When other controls are not sufficient, PPE such as respirators, gloves, and protective clothing can help protect workers from exposure. However, Taryn noted that PPE is often the least effective control and should not be relied upon as the primary method of protection.

Challenges and Considerations

Despite the available controls, there are still challenges in managing hazardous materials. Taryn mentioned that tradespeople often face time pressures and emergencies that can lead to shortcuts and unsafe practices. For instance, during a leak or flood, the immediate priority might be to fix the problem, with less attention given to potential asbestos exposure.

Moreover, there is sometimes resistance to wearing PPE due to discomfort, especially in hot conditions. Taryn acknowledged these challenges but stressed the importance of prioritizing safety and using all available controls to minimize exposure.

Key Takeaways

  • Awareness is Crucial: Tradespeople need to be aware of the hazardous materials they may encounter and understand how to manage them safely.
  • Training and Education: Short courses and ongoing training can provide valuable knowledge and skills for identifying and controlling exposures.
  • Use of Hierarchy of Controls: Implementing a combination of elimination, engineering, and administrative controls can effectively manage risks.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): While essential, PPE should be the last resort and not the primary control measure.
  • Challenges Remain: Time pressures, emergencies, and resistance to PPE are ongoing challenges that need to be addressed through better planning and communication.


Handling hazardous materials on construction sites is an ongoing challenge that requires a comprehensive approach to ensure the safety and health of workers. By increasing awareness, providing proper training, and implementing effective controls, tradespeople can better manage the risks associated with asbestos, silica dust, and lead. As Taryn highlighted, the key is to stay informed, prioritize safety, and use all available resources to protect workers and create safer job sites.

Ready to dive deeper into these topics? Don’t miss out on our full podcast episode with Taryn Toic. Click the button below to start listening!


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