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close this bookBuilding Materials and Health (UNCHS/HABITAT; 1997; 74 pages)
View the documentABBREVIATIONS
View the documentFOREWORD
View the documentINTRODUCTION
View the documentA. Principles
View the documentB. The role of the building industry
View the documentC. The role of research and professional organizations
View the documentD. The role of national governments
View the documentE. International action
View the documentANNEX
View the documentREFERENCES

B. The role of the building industry

Although the structure of the building industry varies greatly from country to country and according to the type of building activity, it is convenient in considering roles and responsibilities to identify four separate groups involved, namely building owners, building designers, builders or building contractors, and the producers of building materials. Each of these groups has a part to play in the mitigation of the health hazards discussed.

Action by building materials’ manufacturers

Materials’ manufacturers have a duty of care both to the workers who are employed in the manufacturing process itself and to those who subsequently use the materials which they produce. The principal responsibilities of building materials manufacturers with regard to the use of the materials which they produce and supply are:


• to investigate the health risks associated with all ingredients or components of the materials which they supply;

• to provide workers with information about the substances in the workplace and dangers posed by them, and provide adequate instructions and training;

• to supply to designers product information which clearly identifies the health hazards and enables specifications to be written in full knowledge of possible health hazards;

• to supply to construction workers clear product information which includes identification of hazardous ingredients and safe working practices which should include monitoring and health surveillance;

• to support toxicological and epidemiological research on the health hazards posed by building materials produced by them;

• to support research on the development of new materials and products which will mitigate known health risks; and

• to support and participate in national or international product labelling schemes.

Action by designers

Although they are not normally held responsible by law for the health of the buildings they design, the designers nevertheless have a key role to play. By specifying the materials and the surface treatments to be used, they have the opportunity to make sure that construction workers and occupants are not avoidably subjected to exposure to toxic chemicals or other hazardous materials. By the design of the indoor environment they also can make sure that concentrations of hazardous substances do not accumulate, and that adequate provision for ventilation is made.

The responsibilities of designers include:


• to acquire, and update, an awareness of the environmental and health impacts of the materials which they specify;

• to obtain, from manufacturers and to provide to clients with specific information about the composition and hazardous ingredients of any materials specified;

• to avoid the use of hazardous materials where alternative, less hazardous substances might be appropriate;

• to advise builders through design specifications, about any hazards likely to be encountered, and of standards and codes of practice which should be observed in carrying out the work;

• to design buildings with adequate control of health risks to reduce, accumulations in one space of numerous organic chemicals;

• to provide information for the owners to include: a list of all materials employed, and associated hazards, required minimum ventilation rates and recommended maintenance periods and procedures.

Action by building owners

The building owner is responsible for planning the overall project, and providing the briefing for the design team, for commissioning the building, and for overseeing; its subsequent use, including periodic maintenance, refurbishment and possibly eventual demolition. It is in these activities that some of the most critical decisions affecting the health of workers and occupants are taken.

The responsibilities of building owners include:


• to develop the brief, and specify overall standards of health protection which the design team should aim for;

• to require the design team to provide fully detailed information about the building’s composition and potential hazards as described above;

• to ensure that the specified minimum ventilation rates are maintained throughout the building’s occupancy;

• to carry out periodic maintenance as required, and keep records;

• to ensure safe handling and disposal of hazardous materials arising of maintenance, refurbishment and demolition activities.

Action by builders and building contractors

Many of the most serious building material-related hazards are those to which the construction workers are exposed to during construction, maintenance, refurbishment and demolition activities. Responsible builders will in most cases be aware of these hazards, and take steps to protect themselves and their workforce. Legal requirements for the control of hazardous substances will increasingly require them to do so.

The responsibilities of builders include:


• to be aware of all hazardous substances which are to be used in the work, and of the recommended safe practice;

• to avoid exposure of workers to hazardous substances and to provide protective equipment;

• to ensure safe handling and disposal of hazardous substances;

• to provide adequate information and training to workers and supervisors on working with hazardous substances;

• to protect building occupants or the general public from exposure to hazardous substances; and

• to monitor the exposure of workers to hazardous substances, and provide for medical surveillance of the workers exposed to greater than acceptable occupational exposure levels.

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