Toxicology is pivotal in providing vital information and knowledge that regulatory agencies, decision-makers, and others can utilise to establish programs and policies to mitigate our exposure to harmful substances. Doing so helps prevent or reduce the occurrence of diseases and adverse health outcomes.

Understanding the impact of chemical substances on the environment and living organisms is paramount. Toxicology’s significance lies in its study of the effects of various chemical agents on living organisms and our planet. This knowledge is critical for ensuring the safety of all life on Earth by analysing the adverse effects of substances, commonly known as toxins. With toxicology, scientists could identify and prevent health and ecological hazards caused by toxic chemicals.

To prevent the accumulation of toxins in living organisms, it is crucial to limit our exposure to toxic chemicals proactively. The key to achieving this lies in understanding the toxicity of different substances. Toxicology provides detailed information about the toxicity of chemicals, empowering scientists to devise strategies for effectively reducing our exposure to these substances.

How Chemicals Cause Harm

Chemicals can cause harm through a limited number of pathways. They can enter the body through the nose, air passages, and lungs, leading to irritation and potential damage. Once in the airways, they may get deposited or absorbed into the bloodstream, allowing them to travel throughout the body. Another route of exposure is ingestion, where chemicals can enter the body by swallowing food, drink, or other substances.

The effects of chemical exposure can vary in their timing. Some may have delayed manifestations, such as cancer and bronchitis, taking years to become evident. On the other hand, specific effects like sudden death or narcosis can be immediate and rapidly develop following chemical exposure. Some products may be reversible, especially when exposure ceases, as seen with irritant contact dermatitis or regenerative organs like the liver. However, others may be irreversible, persisting even without further disclosure, such as carcinogenesis and teratogenesis. The duration and extent of exposure and the specific cells and tissues involved play crucial roles in determining whether the effects are reversible or irreversible. While reversible effects observed in animal studies might be tempting to overlook, it remains essential to consider their potential impact on humans following exposure.

How are Construction Workers Exposed to Toxic Chemicals?

Construction workers face potential exposure to toxic chemicals through various means. Among the standard chemicals and substances they may encounter are:

  • Solvents
  • Glues
  • Insulations materials
  • Paints
  • Industrial cleaning agents
  • Pesticides
  • Acids
  • Gasoline fumes
  • Hot tar
  • Carbon monoxide

Construction workers engaged in tasks such as removing or installing insulation, welding, soldering, mixing and laying cement or concrete and using paint or varnish remover are at risk of exposure. Below is a list of toxic chemicals that these construction workers may come across:

  • Arsenic: Used as a preservative in many wood products.
  • Asbestos: Found in insulation products, tiles, and bricks.
  • Beryllium: Used as an alloying element with copper and other metals, and OSHA closely regulates its toxicity to protect workers.
  • Cadmium: Used to prevent rust in steel products commonly found on construction sites.
  • Formaldehyde: Commonly found in wood products.
  • Hydrocarbons: Used for cleaning and degreasing; under certain conditions, they can turn into toxic phosgene gas when exposed to heat and ultraviolet radiation.
  • Zinc: Used in metal manufacturing and poses a danger to workers when cutting and welding metals during construction.
  • Manganese: Present in welding rods and produces toxic fumes.
  • Mercury: Found in some rust-proof coatings and paints, releasing harmful mercury vapours when heated.
  • Iron Oxide: Toxic fumes are produced during the welding of steel.
  • Lead: Some paints are lead-based and are also in metal alloys.
  • Silica: Found in tile, stone, and sand, and poses health risks when workers are exposed to its dust.

What Injuries and Illnesses are Caused by Toxic Chemicals?

  • Exposure to toxic chemicals may not immediately affect a worker. Sometimes, symptoms show up years after exposure to a poisonous substance. Examples of injuries and illnesses from exposure to toxins include:
  • Lead Poisoning: Leads to damage in the brain, reproductive system, kidneys, muscles, nervous system, and circulatory system.
  • Metal Fume Fever: Results from inhaling zinc fumes and presents flu-like symptoms, including nausea, joint pain, muscle aches, shortness of breath, and pneumonia.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Arising from exposure to toxic chemicals, it encompasses various lung conditions, such as emphysema, leading to lung irritation, emphysema, and pulmonary oedema.
  • Cancer: Those welding or working near welders are at risk of developing lung cancer, larynx cancer, and urinary tract cancer.
  • Manganism: Caused by inhaling manganese fumes or dust, it leads to a permanent neurological disorder akin to Parkinson’s disease, characterised by tremors, facial spasms, and difficulty walking. Continued exposure can cause damage to the lungs, liver, and kidneys. Early symptoms include irritability, aggressiveness, and hallucinations.
  • Mesothelioma: This cancer is caused by asbestos exposure.
  • Silicosis: This occurs in workers who inhale silica dust, typically while cutting tiles, stone, bricks, or sandblasting. The condition causes scarring in the lungs, making breathing difficult.

Our Services

At Cairnmead Industrial Consultants, our services offer a distinctive approach to Health and Safety consulting. We believe in leading with simplicity, recognizing that true safety arises not just from knowledge, but from genuine understanding. Our primary goal is to assist our clients in comprehending the intricacies of safety, and we take pride in converting our extensive knowledge and expertise into easily understandable and actionable information. With us, you can expect a unique consulting experience that empowers you with practical tools to enhance safety in your workplace.

Contact us to find out more:

Christof Lourens

CEO Cairnmead Industrial Consultants (Pty) Ltd

Tel: 012 346 5752 | Email:

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