Health and Safety Consultancy Services for SMEs in Birmingham, West Midlands and beyond

The 9 Most Dangerous Common Building Materials (Part 1)
Posted by David Cant on September 15, 2014

Avoid these Dangerous Building Materials

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)Like it or not, in construction we’ve got to deal with hazardous materials daily.

Every building in the world has them buried somewhere within!

A bunch of these materials are natural, and some aren’t.  And most weren’t even known to be dangerous until recent years or decades.  So we can at least be grateful we’ve got the knowledge to protect ourselves which our fathers’ generation didn’t have.

From Irritant to Deadly

If you’re unaware, you’re in danger.  And if you know what’s risky, and how to deal with it, you’ll be ok.

The 9 most hazardous materials listed below range in health risks from irritants, to potentially toxic or carcinogenic after years of exposure, with some toxic – even deadly – in the short run.  Some are absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested.

Fortunately, all of them are safe during normal use of the building. It takes construction work or a fire to release them.

Which ones are you aware of, and which could you learn more about?

  1. Lead

There’s no such thing as non-toxic lead, and it can lead to damage to your nervous system, kidneys and other organs.  You’ll find lead in paint, in roofing – flashings and fasteners.  In plumbing pipes, connectors and solder.

Fortunately, it has been declining in use and these days is mostly found in public buildings more than 40 years old.

  1. Asbestos

This nasty customer I’m sure you know well.  Contact with asbestos leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and even cancer.  And you’ll still find it in most buildings built before we realized how dangerous it was in the 1980’s.  As crazy as it sounds, some imported materials still contain it today!

And you can find it all over the shop. In plaster, insulation, boilers, vinyl floor tile, glazing compound, pipe covers, caulking compounds, roofing materials, drywall board and taping compounds, flooring, many adhesives, fireproofing insulation, and exterior siding materials.

Read about how to deal with asbestos here

  1. Silica

Like asbestos, silica is a respiratory irritant that can also cause COPD.  It usually takes more exposure over time to have its more serious affects, but is something to be taken very seriously!

It’s a natural substance found in all kinds of stone, and is released by drilling, sanding, demolition, etc.  In buildings you’ll get silica in any stone or to a lesser extent earth, and bricks, concrete, ceramic tile, even sand.

For a step by step guide to silica, and how to protect yourself from it, go here

  1. Polychlorinated biphenyls

Now we’re moving onto the more obscure of our common hazards.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are synthetic organic chemical compounds, which were commonly used before the 1990’s in electrical equipment like transformers, light fixture ballasts, and more.

They are toxins which can accumulate over time and cause damage and disease to your skin, liver, and other organs.  Again, we now know  the danger, but equipment using PCBs are still around today.

Look out for part 2 of ‘The 9 Most Dangerous Common Building Materials’ next week.  And we’ll be giving short, concise guides to staying safe from each one.

Do you have any questions about the materials described here?

Ask away, I’m always happy to talk.


Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME's favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick.

You can find him across Social media - Twitter and Facebook also Linkedin

This post has been filed in: Blog


  1. Gareth Price
    October 17, 2017 at 4:54 am

    Hi Why is toxic lead STILL used in UK housing, when everyone knows the dangers of lead? There are so many good alternatives, but still it is used for roof flashings and detailing?

  2. Shaul Usiskin
    May 2, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    Could you tell me what is the most dangerous area in house construction, the one that causes most fatalities? Thank you for your help.

    Shaul Usiskin

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