Working safely around asphalt

Workers can be exposed to fumes from asphalt during road paving, roofing, siding and concrete work. According to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, exposure to the fumes can have both short- and long-term health consequences.

In the short term, asphalt fumes can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, leading to coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, the department states. The fumes also can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Long-term exposure to asphalt fumes may result in bronchitis.

To reduce workers’ asphalt-fume exposure, the department recommends the following:

  • Enclose operations and use local exhaust ventilation at the site of the chemical release, when possible. If local exhaust ventilation or enclosure is not used, respirators should be worn.
  • Use a NIOSH-approved supplied-air respirator with a full facepiece operated in a pressure-demand or other positive-pressure mode if asphalt fumes are greater than the NIOSH-recommended airborne exposure limit of 5 mg/m3 for longer than 15 minutes.
  • Post warning information in work zones about the hazards of exposure as part of an ongoing education effort.
  • Communicate this information to all potentially exposed workers.
  • Consider all potential exposures. Employers may need to provide a variety of personal protective equipment.

According to the department, contact with asphalt itself can irritate and cause severe skin burns, and may cause dermatitis and lesions similar to acne. Long-term exposure can cause skin pigment changes, which are made worse by sunlight exposure.

Employees should follow these practices when working with asphalt:

  • If clothing has been contaminated, change into clean clothing quickly.
  • Ensure eyewash stations are available.
  • Emergency shower facilities should be provided so that if skin comes into contact with asphalt, employees can immediately shower off the chemical.
  • Do not eat or drink where asphalt is being handled, as the chemical can be swallowed.
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