Carpenters are responsible for helping build the shelters that keep us safe, but working with dangerous tools and toxic substances can put them at risk for developing health conditions and sustaining injuries. According to the National Safety Council, construction workers, many of whom are carpenters, experienced 310,000 medically treated injuries in 2017.
Fortunately, you can work with your members to help prevent or effectively treat the common health problems faced by carpenters. Here are three to look out for.
Carpenters encounter unique challenges in managing respiratory health. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), repeated exposure to wood dust and finishing materials is associated with the potential to develop a variety of diseases and disorders.
For example, consistent contact with the sap from wood can cause members with allergies to suffer adverse reactions such as asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and chronic bronchitis. Carpenters can also become sensitized to wood dust over time. When sensitization happens, your members may develop severe allergic reactions to relatively low concentrations of wood dust after being repeatedly exposed to the substance.
Even if a carpenter does not develop allergies to wood dust, they may still experience mucosal and nonallergic respiratory effects from repeated exposure to the substance. Nasal dryness, obstruction and prolonged colds are all common symptoms experienced by carpenters who are repeatedly exposed to wood dust, according to OSHA.
According to the National Cancer Institute, people whose occupations are associated with exposure to wood dust may also develop cancers of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses. They suggest limiting exposure to the dust by making modifications like installing an exhaust ventilation system with collectors placed at points where dust is produced. They also suggest using personal protective equipment, such as respirators, while working.
The dust and debris to which carpenters are often exposed can also lead to eye injuries or even blindness if the proper safety glasses and goggles are not used on the job. According to nonprofit Prevent Blindness, 90% of workplace eye injuries are preventable with protective eyewear, so members' first step to maintaining eye health is to use the proper personal protective equipment.
Access to regular eye exams and eye treatment options is critical for the health of carpenters' eyes. At least 79% of workers who have access to vision plans participate in them, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Having access to vision insurance or eye care as part of an integrated health care plan allows carpenters to keep their eyes healthy and treat any injuries or diseases that arise from or are exacerbated by their jobs.
Back Pain and Musculoskeletal Disorders
Musculoskeletal disorders and chronic pain affect between 30 and 40% of members in the construction industry, notes the Center for Construction Research and Training. According to SpineUniverse, overuse injuries and back pain result from the types of repetitive movements construction workers, including carpenters, make while working. More than 30% of workers take time off from work due to neck and back sprain or strain, and workers who climb ladders or work on scaffolds risk falling and sustaining serious spine injuries that could lead to permanent disability or death.
Carpenters should focus on modifying repetitive tasks, avoiding twisting and bending at the same time, lifting with their legs and using lifting devices when possible to avoid back injuries. Once a back injury is sustained, drugs and surgery are not the only options for treatment; health plans that include coverage for holistic treatments such as osteopathic manipulative treatment and mindfulness therapies provide carpenters with noninvasive options for relieving back pain.
OSHA also highlights that lacerations, amputations and severed fingers are common problems faced by carpenters from using woodworking tools. Permanent damage to the muscles or bones in carpenters' hands and arms can complicate or disable simple motor functions they need to perform daily to do their jobs effectively. Carpenters should be sure to use the proper safety equipment and personal protective equipment while working in order to prevent these life-altering injuries.
Although carpenters are at risk of being injured or developing serious health conditions as a result of their work, many of these injuries and health conditions are either preventable or treatable. When you help your carpenter union members take the proper precautionary measures to avoid injury and seek treatment for work-related conditions, you put them on the path to lasting health.
Julia Passwater is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Passwater earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Indiana University Bloomington, and she earned a Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. After earning her law degree, Passwater spent over a decade enforcing federal employment laws for the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Today, Passwater writes about topics such as politics, government, employment law and work in the 21st century.