Construction at work making me sick?
February 9, 2011 4:53 PM   Subscribe

I think the construction in my workplace is making me sick. What can I do?

I work in an office with fairly typical hours. Construction has started on my floor and in my department's area. The construction is to continue for a few months. The dust is out of control (and settles in a fine layer on tables, etc). There are also presumably other "things" in the air.

I am allergic to dust and mold, and have chronic asthma. This week, I have been feeling quite sick at work (stuffy, sore throat, wheezy, headache, watery eyes). I'm fine once I've been out of the office for a while.

My coworkers (and boss) have also mentioned feeling bad because of the dust. The company was testing the air quality today with an independent consultant. However, a coworker also mentioned that an air problem has happened before with previous construction, and no action was taken.

I just want to feel better at work - the construction is finite and will end. But the bulk of the construction will be near where I sit.

So, two questions.
How can I manage my symptoms?
What rights do I have?
(I know they are not going to stop the construction, nor do I expect them to. I am in Maryland. You are not a lawyer and you are certainly not my lawyer.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go to your doctor, ask about:

- prednisone nasal spray
- steroidal inhaler
- albuterol
- zyrtec or other antihistamine

This all assumes you can't find a less irritating place to work, like say a cafe down the street with wireless for part of the day.

Also, shower when you get home so the dust isn't in your hair and irritating you all night.
posted by zippy at 4:58 PM on February 9, 2011

Depending on your specific job, you might be able to get permission to work from home. This happened to us last summer when it was really hot and we were able to measure and document unsafe temperatures in the office to OHS.
posted by lollusc at 4:59 PM on February 9, 2011

Perhaps a humidifier would keep the dust down to an extent. You could wear a dust mask during the day, but that might not be possible at work.

Can you get building maintenance to change the filters in your heating/cooling system more frequently?
posted by sciencegeek at 5:01 PM on February 9, 2011
posted by neuron at 5:09 PM on February 9, 2011

I am a site manager and often work within the context of a construction site, if I permitted dust like that in an office area I would be in a lot of trouble, regardless of what the dust is actually composed of.

Do you have an OH&S rep? Your first port of call should be with them, or their equivalent. Failing that talk to whoever is responsible for managing OH&S and/or risk in your organisation. You could try talking to the site manager/foreman on the construction site but it seems pretty clear they are not really with it.

If none of them work you could talk to your local work safety authority (OSHA?).

In terms of PPE, you need at least a P2 (I think that's international) rated dust mask (don't buy the cheap rubbish from your local hardware mega store) and you need to be clean shaven and know how to wear it properly. I would not recommend going down this route, you aren't going to enjoy your work day with one of them on.

Disclaimer: I am not in the US, have never worked in the US and know for a fact that I work under some of the strictest OH&S laws in the world, which prevents this kind of thing happening. For example, an employee OH&S rep here could legally and authoritatively stop this work in these circumstances and a plain old employee such as yourself could call the government OH&S authority anonymously, and they would likely be there that day.
posted by deadwax at 7:01 PM on February 9, 2011

Whoever is doing this project should be controlling their emissions, and have the work area separated from the "occupied" area by physical barriers and by engineering so that air flows from your (occupied) area into the work area.

Putting an indoor construction area under isolated, negative air pressure (see above) is elementary and anyone who does this kind of construction should know how (and why) to do it.

Your employer should also insist on this.

That said, it is extremely likely that any OSHA standards are being violated, so if you complained, OSHA would either send a letter to your employer asking for clarification, or come out, maybe do some air monitoring and then report no violations. So I would not go to them unless it is the very last resort.
posted by Danf at 9:02 PM on February 9, 2011

As a temporary measure, I'd ask your manager if they'd considered buying a HEPA air purifier. We've got a Hunter that's not too bad but there's tons of choices on Amazon. The purifiers aren't that expensive but replacement filters are pricey so we vacuum the worst of the cat fur/dust off of them every now and then so it will last longer. This would probably get the worst of the dust out of the air.
posted by stray thoughts at 10:44 PM on February 9, 2011

You can also go home sick. I temped at an office with construction occurring, temping for the project manager on the office side. They took notice when absenteeism was clearly up.
posted by slidell at 12:57 AM on February 10, 2011

The architect's drawings should note, and the contractor should follow, best practices to minimize dust during remodeling. Speak to the project manager (someone at your company or a third party in charge of the project). They should ensure the contractor follows proper procedures. As others said, OSHA rules are also there to protect you if the contractor or your employer ignore workplace safety. If you just want to take care of the problem yourself without making a fuss, you can wear a disposable dust mask each day; they're cheap and generally effective.
posted by Chris4d at 7:39 AM on February 10, 2011

Complain about the dust, not getting sick. It's that time of year when everyone gets a cold or the flu.

Your symptoms don't sound at all like they were caused by construction dust. (Granted, it's probably not helping matters, and it's not healthy in general, although I would tend to doubt that it's what made you sick).

I'm not a doctor, but I do have dust/mold allergies and asthma. Unless they've kicked up a fair amount of mold during construction (possible during demolition), it sounds more like there's a cold that's being passed around your office.
posted by schmod at 7:40 AM on February 10, 2011

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