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Asphalt fumes

Asphalt is a petroleum product used extensively in some construction work. When asphalt is heated for use, it releases fumes that can be harmful to workers.

How workers are exposed

Asphalt is most commonly found in:

Road construction and paving
  • Asphalt is heated to pave roads and seal road cracks.
Roofing
  • Heated asphalt is used for sealing roofs.
Manufacturing
  • Paving and roofing asphalt is manufactured is large batches. This releases large amount of fumes, often in a warehouse or other indoor setting.

The risks

Asphalt fumes can cause serious and permanent injury, such as:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Reduced appetite
  • Cancer
  • Skin rash
  • Throat and eye irritation

How to reduce the risks

To reduce the potential for injury or disease, you need to control the risks and hazards in your workplace.

The most effective way to manage the risk of exposure is to eliminate the source of exposure. If that's not possible, there are other risk controls to use. When choosing risk controls, start by asking yourself the questions in the following steps, listed in order of effectiveness. See our resources for more information.

  1. 1

    Elimination or substitution

    This control involves eliminating the hazard by substituting a safer process or material, where possible, is the most effective control. This is the most effective control. When working with asphalt, a key question to ask is:

    • Can an alternative, less hazardous roofing or paving material be used?
  2. 2

    Engineering controls

    This control involves making physical modifications to facilities, equipment, and processes to reduce exposure. Key questions to consider:

    • Can a process be used that generates less asphalt fume?
    • Can ventilation be improved?
  3. 3

    Administrative controls

    This control involves changing work practices and policies. Providing awareness tools and training also count as administrative controls. Some questions to consider:

    • Have workers been trained in safe work practices?
    • Have workers been trained in safe housekeeping practices?
    • Can work be scheduled for a time when fewer people will be present?
    • Have warning signs been posted in the work area?
    • Have written safe work procedures been posted?
  4. 4

    4. Personal protective equipment

    This control, the least effective, must always be used in addition to at least one other control. Some questions to ask:

    • Do workers have the required respirators, gloves, footwear, eye wear, and protective clothing?
    • Has personal protective equipment been tested to make sure it's working properly?
    • Have workers been trained on how to properly use personal protective equipment?