Occupational Safety and Health and Healthy Housing: A Review of Opportunities and Challenges

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Abstract

Purpose:

Occupational safety and health (OSH) risks in construction of healthy housing (HH) have not been examined and collaboration between HH and OSH professionals is inadequate. The World Health Organization is developing international HH guidelines and the International Labour Organization is working to improve OSH in construction globally.

Methods:

We searched for exemplary reports (including gray literature) on construction hazards; preventive measures for occupants and workers; OSH frameworks, laws, and regulations; definitions; and HH.

Results:

Healthy housing construction typically improves ventilation, moisture and mold, pest control, injury hazards, cleanability, maintenance, accessibility, thermal conditioning, and avoidance of toxic building materials. To date, this work is done without explicit requirements for worker health. Construction is among the most hazardous sectors around the globe, although protective measures are well known, including engineering and administrative controls and provision of personal protective equipment. Residential construction, renovation, repair, and maintenance are fragmented, consisting mostly of small companies without proper OSH training, equipment, and knowledge of HH principles. Residential construction is often undertaken by informal or unauthorized workers, putting them at high risk. Reduced exposure to toxic building materials is an example of a benefit for both workers and occupants if OSH and HH collaboration can be improved. By recognizing that homes under new construction or renovation are both a workplace and a residence, HH and OSH initiatives can apply public health principles to occupants and workers simultaneously. This article publishes key definitions, hazards and interventions common to both fields.

Conclusions:

A global increase in residential construction and renewed global interest in HH poses both risks and opportunities for primary prevention. Policy and practice interventions can benefit the health of occupants and those who work on their homes. Improvements in legislation, regulation, and international frameworks are needed to maximize OSH and HH collaboration and realize significant cobenefits. Occupational safety and health and HH standards should include requirements to protect both workers and occupants. Because homes can also be workplaces, both workers and housing occupants will receive important cobenefits when OSH and HH standards use proven interventions to protect workers and occupants.

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