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Knowledge Sharing of Research Information for Construction Health and Safety Practices


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Few studies have been conducted on the health and safety effects of building materials. This study develops an evaluation method that is used to identify the presence of hazardous substances from building materials and assess their public health impact. Research findings confirm the existence of large amounts of hazardous substances in most of the man-made products. The current information on building products and their effects to human are limited and not easily accessed. There is a need for improved knowledge sharing on building materials information that would be the greatest investments to health and safety in the built environment industry.
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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 ( 2013 ) 239 – 248
1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Centre for Environment-Behaviour Studies (cE-Bs), Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying,
Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia.
doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.11.025
Asia Pacific International Conference on Environment-Behaviour Studies
University of Westminster, London, UK, 4-6 September 2013
"From Research to Practice"
Knowledge Sharing of Research Information for Construction
Health and Safety Practices
Sabarinah Sh Ahmad
, Zarina Isnin, Zaharah Yahya, Mustapha Mohd Salleh
Faculty of Architecture, Planning and Surveying
Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam 40450, Malaysia
Few studies have been conducted on the health and safety effects of building materials. This study develops an
evaluation method that is used to identify the presence of hazardous substances from building materials and assess
their public health impact. Research findings confirm the existence of large amounts of hazardous substances in most
of the man-made products. The current information on building products and their effects to human are limited and
not easily accessed. There is a need for improved knowledge sharing on building materials information that would be
the greatest investments to health and safety in the built environment industry.
© 2013 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Centre for Environment-
Behaviour Studies (cE-Bs), Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia.
Keywords: Building materials information; construction health and safety practices; hazardous substances; knowledge sharing
1. Introduction
Building materials consumption and demolition contribute to a major part in construction activities.
Materials, such as wood, cement and steel are commonly used for construction purposes. Other
productions of more innovative materials involve the usage of chemicals. More than 100,000 new
chemical compounds for building materials and components have been developed since 1930. The United
Nations Conference on Environment and Development recognized that some building materials and
construction activities can be harmful to human health (United Nations Environment Programme, 1992).
Corresponding author. Tel.: +603-55442097; fax: +602-55444535.
E-mail address:
Available online at
© 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Centre for Environment-Behaviour Studies (cE-Bs), Faculty of Architecture,
Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia.
240 Sabarinah Sh Ahmad et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 ( 2013 ) 239 – 248
The use of chemicals has brought immense benefits to mankind, but some have also contributed to
negative impacts on health and safety.
There are increasing studies on building construction materials. Unfortunately, there were still
insufficient information for health assessments of 95% of the chemicals used in the building materials and
the construction environment (Pacheco-Torgal & Labrincha, 2013). The construction sectors are also
bogged with several other challenges on adequacy of information and knowledge on health risks posed by
these man-made materials. Furthermore, the culture of knowledge sharing among construction workers in
most developing countries is still restricted in traditional face-to-face interaction. Available information
on the effects of building materials that could be understood by the stakeholders would assist them to
share the knowledge and make better decisions (Isnin et al., 2012a).
2. Knowledge gap on building materials information
In building construction activities, most structural demolition or renovation could involve exposure to
hazardous materials. Existing buildings that require some form of retrofitting may contain lead-based
paint, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). None of the
building materials specified in contemporary buildings is specifically designed to be healthful for people
(McDonough & Braungart, 2003). Based on research findings, common building materials such as lead
based paint, sealants, glues and insulation that contain volatile organic compounds could release toxic
chemicals such as benzene, toluene and formaldehyde which are hazardous to human health. However,
surveys on existing buildings seldom include information on hazardous materials.
In recent years, several studies have been focusing on the risks posed by substances that are persistent
bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) and radioactive. There are many other chemicals previously thought to be
safe, but now found to have negative impacts on health and the environment. However, there are
significant uncertainties in the reliability and validity of research findings on the effects of building
materials on health. For example, data on the rate and frequency of emissions is scarce and some data is
derived from inaccurate research methods (Benigeri, 2003). There is also a lack of data on the identity of
the chemicals emitted, as well as on how the mitigation measures actually reduce exposures (Yashiro,
2011). Some may contain too little information related to risks of the hazardous and toxic content. Several
studies also reported many inaccurate information on building materials being published. Some data on
health and safety is found to be limited and conflicting.
Building materials are often dismantled and removed without proper procedures. Most of the
construction wastes are seldom separated although they contain known hazardous substances such as
asbestos. Furthermore, occupational exposure to construction materials such as asbestos, lead, solvents
and other hazardous materials is commonly unregulated with little monitoring of exposure. The working
sites are often confined and congested. This has caused a great concern on the safety and health of
workers. There was no chemical hazard specific to building materials identified, but the work site may
still be exposed to certain risks derived from exposures to various chemical fumes, liquids, gases,
vapours, mists and particulate matters. There are health risks concerning the exposure to these materials.
Cases such as developing chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease (COPD) or cancer were reported, as a
result of contact or inhalation of building dust and fumes. Unfortunately, these particulate matters, dust
and emissions around us are not visible.
Few building materials used either for indoor or outdoor finishes have been tested for adverse health
effects. Furthermore, studies have shown that some of the building materials used posed serious risks,
such as asbestos and lead; exacerbated by the lack of adequate information on the existence, safe
handling, and disposal of the debris. There were knowledge gaps on how changes in building design,
construction, operation, occupancy and maintenance will influence the mix of pollutants from building
Sabarinah Sh Ahmad et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 ( 2013 ) 239 – 248
materials and how the concentrations of indoor contaminants could be measured and affect human health
(Isnin and Ahmad, 2012).
2.1 Knowledge sharing culture on building materials information
The culture of knowledge sharing among construction workers in most developing countries is still
restricted in traditional face-to-face interaction. Studies revealed their lack of awareness on building
material information and knowledge. All the stakeholders should be aware of the possible risks that they
are dealing with. However, finding the appropriate information at the required time for an aggregated
scale of building product information is a difficult task. Information may not be adequately managed,
because of shortages of financial resources and trained manpower. Sometimes, the information may not
be easily accessible due to the lack of technology or management costs. The information would need to
be easily understood for planning, decision making, construction processes, maintenance and as public
information (Isnin et al., 2012b).
Available information on how building products effect human is often limited and not easily accessed
(Isnin et al., 2012c). The traditional knowledge sharing on building materials information is restricted to
time, cost and quality of construction. The use of information technology such as computers, Internet or
emails in construction companies is still piecemeal and limited in their daily work communication. There
are many challenges dealing with knowledge and awareness of the existence of hazardous and toxic
building materials in construction. Limited access to information resulted in lack of proper knowledge on
how to deal with potential hazards.
Studies revealed that parts of the barriers were the lack of information and knowledge on the exposure
effects of building materials. Knowledge on the contents of building materials, exposure effects and
preventive measures are essential to minimise potential dangers. There is a crucial need in the
construction industry to ensure that the stakeholders involved, such as the consultants, contractors and
clients are provided not only with the knowledge that enable them to effectively perform their tasks, but
the safe processes and mitigation strategies that enable them to avoid any potential hazards.
3. The needs for information on health and safety practices in construction
Information of hazardous building materials is required before the construction work begins. The
information can be disseminated through site briefings, meetings and distribution of paper medium. They
should be made available to the workers or any stakeholders upon request. It may be in the form of hard
copy or even digitised as long as the employees have access to the computer. As there are expected
improvements and modifications to building products, the labels and the information would need to be
up-dated. However, it would be costly and time-consuming for the private sectors to constantly change
the information.
The United Nation has reminded the need to provide information on the effects of building materials
and the means available to mitigate their adverse health and safety impacts (Du Plessis, 2002). Many
countries, such as the European Union (EU), the United States and most of the developed countries have
already taken proactive actions to ensure the information on hazardous substances in building materials is
accessible. For example, most of the developed countries have regulated the requirement for building
product compliance on related harmful emissions. In addition, they have developed labels and
certification programmes to verify that the building materials and products used were safe. The
information is kept as database inventory and published to allow stakeholders to identify potential
hazardous building materials that may damage health and the environment. The knowledge inventory on
hazardous building materials is then shared amongst the stakeholders in the construction industry.
Knowledge sharing on crucial information would assist them to properly manage and monitor the safe use
in construction processes.
242 Sabarinah Sh Ahmad et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 ( 2013 ) 239 – 248
Windows Windows
Folding door
finishe s
Built-in furniture
Wal l
There is already an extensive global system for chemical management for most industrial products
such as laboratory chemicals, pesticides, cosmetic and food. Although there are also several information
systems for building materials, it is still a big challenge to identify hazardous and toxic building materials
and effectively share the knowledge to users. It is also a challenge to identify the exact quantity of
hazardous and toxic building materials, since a comprehensive study to determine location, quantities,
types and state has not been carried out.
4. Aim of the study
This study aims to initiate the development of collecting information on building materials as a
knowledge base. The first objective examines through literature reviews on how building materials in
building adaptation projects could contribute to potential health risk and hazards. Building adaptation
projects involve design, location, description, specification and quantity of different building materials
from the existing space and for the new proposal. The work processes involve exposure to dust, fumes
and liquids due to chipping, grinding, disassembling, attaching, sweeping and cleaning processes
throughout the projects. The second objective develops an evaluation method that is used to identify the
contents of building materials and assess their public health impact. Improving access to relevant
information to the stakeholders involved would improve their knowledge and awareness on the effects of
exposure to hazardous building materials.
5. Methodology
The study explores some critical issues of building materials in building adaptation project through
published secondary data. The samples for the study were building finishes of selected learning spaces in
Klang Valley higher educational institutions in Malaysia. There were four groups of building materials
involved in building adaptation work processes: demolish, dismantle, remains and new finishes. The first
step of the methodology is to identify the building materials for the projects.
The specifications for building materials are defined according to the Economic Planning Unit
guidelines. Standards are based from the Public Works Department, Malaysian Standards and other
related standards and guidelines stipulated in the project documents. The data is grouped according to six
building elements: (i) Wall and cladding, (ii) Floor, (iii) Ceiling, (iv) Door and accessories, (v) Window
and accessories, and (vi) Built-in Furniture (Figure 1a and 1b).
Fig.1. (a) Typical public university classroom floor plan and (b) Typical classroom photograph in a public university in Malaysia.
Sabarinah Sh Ahmad et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 ( 2013 ) 239 – 248
Building Elements &
Potential Risk &
Hazard List
Classificatio n &
Dismantle materials
Separation of
Building Materials
New fini shes
Building Adaptation
Project Document &
Cont ract Sp ecif ication
Proposal of
Signal words,
symbols &
Demolish materials
Technical Contents
Safety Data She et
Product Information
Figure 2 shows the steps employed to identify the potential risk and hazard of building materials in
building adaptation projects.
Fig. 2. Health and safety evaluation model for building materials in adaptation projects
5.1. Proposal of systematic identification of building material substances
The study recognised the need to identify the ingredients used and the hazard identifications as
specified by the manufacturer or supplier. A reliable mechanism is needed to ensure the quality of
information provided is accurate and reliable. The compiled information is to help users to obtain
information that is valid and trustworthy. For this study, the information is based from the Material Safety
Data Sheets (MSDS) furnished by the manufacturer or supplier, which is in accordance to Occupational
Safety and Health (Classification, Packaging and Labelling of Hazardous Chemicals) Regulations 1997
under the Regulation 9. A systematic structure of the information is developed based on the MSDS
contents. Normally each MSDS would have information on the product name and m
hazards identification, composition or information on ingredients, first aid measures, fire-fighting
measures, accidental release measures, handling and storage, exposure controls, personal protection,
physical and chemical properties, stability and reactivity, toxicological information, ecological
information, disposal considerations, transport information, regulatory information and other information.
Additional data, such as alternatives and cost data is also entered into the knowledge base.
However, it should be noted that accurate information is crucial for the study. MSDSs or technical
specifications could be written by anyone and some may even be plagiarised (Supoh, 2005). An expert
panel review conducted by OSHA in 1997 (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, n.d.), found
that only 11% of the MSDSs were accurate in all of the following four areas: health effects, first aid,
personal protective equipment, and exposure limits. The health effects data on the MSDSs are frequently
incomplete and the chronic data are often incorrect or less complete than the acute data. Thus, any
information is to be used with caution and should be obtained from trustworthy and reliable sources. The
data and information, either from MSDS or other technical specifications, have to meet certain minimum
standards of acceptability as outlined by the guidelines on preparation of MSDS and technical reports.
The references should follow the required standards and formats. All information obtained is based on
verifiable sources, for example, documented studies, reports, and reliable databases, as well as the
currency of the report.
244 Sabarinah Sh Ahmad et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 ( 2013 ) 239 – 248
Each building material examined is
MSDS. The hazard classes consisted of 10 health and 16 physical hazards. For example, one sample of
is further sub-classified according to the severity. Other building
products could be classified as acute toxicity, flammability, etc. Other additional information also
included the potential health effects and symptom through inhalation, ingestion, dermal contact, eye
contact, chronic exposure and aggravation of pre-existing conditions. The hazard identification included
physical, chemical and environmental hazards, if applicable.
5.3. Indication of symbol/pictogram
The model uses symbol or pictogram to enable the users to recognize and understand the hazard and
risk. These symbols/pictograms consist of a black hazard symbol surrounded by a red frame as per
standards. However, the requirements for the use of pictograms depend on hazard class as well as hazard
category. The style of language and presentation is presented using less technical terms, as many of the
users may not be familiar with the technical jargons.
5.4. Limitations
Some of the information on the existing building materials was not available or incomplete. There are
also unrecorded changes for the finishes due to repair works or maintenance. Some information on details
of secondary materials or building products such as cornices or the adhesives and glues used was not
available as they are often unrecorded. Thus, references are made based on the detail drawings or
installation guidance. The study also excludes loose furniture such as chairs and tables at the research site.
6. Findings and discussion
Twenty nine types of generic building finishes and related components were examined based on the
six building elements of a typical classroom in public higher educational institutions. There were many
manufacturers of these finishes and components. A search of the MSDS database for each finishes and
components resulted in 358 MSDSs that are coded for easier referencing and retrieval. There were several
similar specifications for similar products but from different manufacturers. Sometimes they were of
different formulation and came with different safety recommendations. The information is further
categorised and entered into a knowledge base. Additional data such as alternative materials is obtained
from alternative reliable sources to demonstrate the availability of choice. Acts, guidelines and
specifications related to the building products are included for references.
6.1. What information can be shared?
Building adaptation projects involve the dismantling, demolishing, assembling, transporting and
placing of building materials. Stakeholders such as designers and contractors could have overlooked to
assess any potential risks pertaining to exposure to building materials. Although there were cases of ill-
health caused by workers coming into contact with harmful materials in one form or another, few studies
and evidences were found to support these findings. The majority of workers did not recognise that
carrying out tasks in a particular way and exposure to particular materials would result in long-term ill-
health. Some designers were unaware of the contents of the building materials specified. On the other
Sabarinah Sh Ahmad et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 ( 2013 ) 239 – 248
hand, the clients and contractors were also unable to manage the potential risks, as there were limited
information. Therefore, they required that the information should be shared and the existence of
hazardous materials at the site is made known to them.
6.1.1. Specific information on potential risk and hazard from building materials
From the proposed model, knowledge could be obtained from the collected data and information on
the MSDSs and other technical information. This knowledge repository would assist the stakeholders to
make decisions or show the right way of doing a task or preventive methods. The knowledge could also
be shared amongst the different users. Based from Fig. 3, specific information on potential risk and
hazard from building materials used in projects could be identified.
Type of
Type of
Potential Risk &
Hazard Identification
Fig. 3. Information on potential risk and hazard identification form building materials used in a specified project
The knowledge repository on the existing building materials would inform and alert the stakeholders
on the presence of a variety of potential sources such as:
Existing materials on site based from previous design specifications such as asbestos ceiling sheets,
lead paints, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) etc.,
Materials that are incorporated in existing building components, such as asbestos in insulation etc.,
Work processes, which could change stable or inert materials into hazardous form, such as cutting hard
concrete, gluing adhesives in confined space etc.,
New materials specified by the designer for the project that could contain hazardous substances, and
Contaminations due to dampness, molds, lack of maintenance that could change the chemical form of
Models and simulations of the proposed system could provide crucial information on the potential risk
and hazards of building materials in construction projects. The model generates a preliminary hazard list
for building substances that could assist design, construction, maintenance and occupancy throughout the
building life-cycle development.
6.1.2. Information on potential health effects and preventive measures from exposure to building
The specific data collection and retrieval efforts from the model are defined under the health and safety
data and monitoring requirements (Figure 4). Other related activities and additional information on
building materials may assist in eliminating or reducing the potential risks and hazards on site (Fig. 5).
These information need to be accurate and valid. The information is based on sound technical, scientific
or engineering judgement provided by reliable sources.
Building Materials
Safety Data Sheet
Ta rg e t
Routes of
Overv iew
Potential Health
Effect s
Fig. 4. Information on potential health effects from exposure to building materials
246 Sabarinah Sh Ahmad et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 ( 2013 ) 239 – 248
Personal Protective
Engineering Controls
First Aid
Fire Fighting
Fig. 5. Information on preventive measures
6.1.3. Information on alternative building materials
The positive trend towards achieving green building globally has been growing at an increasing rate.
However, it should also be noted that the building sector in most developing countries lags the availability
and awareness on green building materials or lesser harmful materials. Studies indicated that several
regulations and guidelines are not fully designed to encourage sustainable and green materials in building
construction industries. They require governing policy tools including economic policies, regulations,
information and partnerships.
For the proposed model, it proposes information on s
materials (Fig. 6). The proposed model attempts to help assessment and comparison of available building
product relative to another.
Information on
Manufacturer / Supplier
Green Cer tification
Information on Products
Fig. 6. Information on alternative buidling materials
6.1.4. Knowledge repository on building materials
The proposed model defines the tasks and implications of exposure to building materials throughout
the lifecycle of the building (Fig. 7). The information can be applied to different phases of a project. The
model provides the means to plan, organise, control and manage the exposure to any potential hazardous
building substances. As there will be overwhelming information throughout the building lifecycle, usage
of appropriate information system would assist rapid search and retrieval of information. It is also more
efficient compared with a search in unstructured database system.
Sabarinah Sh Ahmad et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 ( 2013 ) 239 – 248
Cost Estimating
Quantify volume
and type
Project Evaluation
Handing Over
Project Delivery
Operation &
Inventory &
Materials Disposal
Fig. 7. Collection of database on building materials throughout the building lifecycle suitable for a knowledge repository. (Adapted
from Building Information Framework -
7. Conclusion and recommendation
Research and development efforts on building materials have supported the positive growth of
building construction industry. However, chemicals incorporated in building materials have caused
adverse effects to human health and the environmental sustainability. The global nature of chemical
issues requires a comprehensive and global approach that brings together researchers and the construction
stakeholders involved. There is a need for improved availability of research findings that could be shared
amongst the stakeholders.
Information on building materials should be collected and kept in a knowledge repository. The
knowledge could be shared and transmitted to the stakeholders in the construction industry to reuse and
manage information for better decision makings in their construction projects. They would be able to
identify potential harmful materials and reduce the adverse effects. There are choices of less harmful
building material alternatives to suit the project. Knowledge sharing of building materials information to
all stakeholders involved in the construction activities may be the greatest investments to health and
safety in the built environment industry.
The authors would like to thank Research Management Institute of Universiti Teknologi MARA for
supporting this research under the Excellence Research and the Research Intensive Faculty grant
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Global sustainability issues have led Malaysia, amongst other concerned countries to develop strategies on hazardous materials identification for construction industries. However, very few published literatures are found on the effects of building materials to social health, the environment and economy in building adaptation projects. There is a promising future for better building adaptation materials management but the issues and challenges highlighted require further actions for a positive difference. Encouraging usage of greener building materials and more research could be the way forward.
Cradle-to-cradle design is an ecologically intelligent approach to architecture and industry that involves materials, buildings and patterns of settlement which are wholly healthful and restorative. Unlike cradle-to-grave systems, cradle-to-cradle design sees human systems as nutrient cycles in which every material can support life. Materials designed as biological nutrients provide nourishment for nature after use; technical nutrients circulate through industrial systems in closed-loop cycles of production, recovery and remanufacture. Following a science-based protocol for selecting safe, healthful Ingredients, cradle-to-cradle design maximizes the utility of material assets. Responding to physical, cultural and climactic settings, it creates buildings and community plans that generate a diverse range of economic, social and ecological value in industrialized and developing countries.
Copyright: 2002 CIB & UNEP-IETC This discussion document “Agenda 21 for sustainable construction in developing countries” represents both a sector response and a developing country response to the challenge of sustainable development. It builds on the principles of the UN Agenda 21 formulated at the Earth Summit in Rio and is published as a contribution to the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. The aim of this document is to provide a research and development agenda and strategy for action for construction in developing countries. This document is especially significant as it represents an important step in the empowerment of developing countries, providing as it does an agenda that was prepared entirely by experts from developing countries to answer to the specific needs and challenges of developing countries. That is, to provide developing country answers to developing country problems. However, in an interconnected and interdependent world, the Agenda 21 for Sustainable Construction in Developing Countries does not concern developing countries alone, but also offers guidance to developed countries in their pursuit of sustainability, as well as opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships.
Disseminating health and medical information on the Internet can improve knowledge transfer from health professionals to the population, and help individuals to maintain and improve their health. There are currently several medical information websites that directly target the general population with the aim of providing information about health problems, self-care and prevention. However, this new technology also hides several shortcomings, such as: (i) uneven quality of medical information available on the Internet; (ii) difficulties in finding, understanding and using this information; (iii) lack of access for the unconnected population; and (iv) the potential for harm and risks of over-consumption. To be able to overcome these dangers, it is important that public health practitioners and health professionals be involved in the design, dissemination and evaluation of Web-based health and medical information.
The need for effective reporting on sustainable buildings: translating to policy
  • Yashiro
  • T Yashiro
  • Yashiro
  • T Yashiro