Construction Workers Are at an Increased Risk for COPD

Unrecognizable manual worker using pneumatic hammer drill and repairing bridge.
Construction workers are at an increased risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Construction workers are at an increased risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to study results published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.1

A previous study published in 2010 demonstrated that construction workers participating in medical screening programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear facilities had an increased risk of COPD .2 Researchers later studied a much larger cohort of 17,941 participants in the Building Trades National Medical Screening Program (BTMed) through March 2020, which allowed for a more nuanced analysis of COPD risk, including for employment beginning after the mid‐1990s.1

The overall COPD prevalence was 13.4%, and that 67.4% of cases were classified as moderate to severe. Compared with nonconstruction workers, construction trade workers were at a significantly increased risk for all COPD (odds ratio [OR], 1.34; 95% CI, 1.18-1.54) and even more so for severe COPD (OR, 1.61; 95% CI, 1.32-1.96). The highest risk trades were cement masons/bricklayers (OR, 2.36; 95% CI, 1.71-3.26) and roofers (OR, 2.22; 95% CI, 1.48-3.32). Analyses of COPD risk by duration and time period of DOE site work revealed an increased risk for construction workers with 5 or fewer years of their career outside of a DOE site. In addition, the risk among workers employed at a DOE site after 1995 was elevated but not statistically significant.

“Construction workers taken as a whole have increased risk of COPD, and this increased risk extends through most construction‐related trades,” the study authors concluded. “Continued surveillance of this DOE worker population is important to further evaluate the effectiveness of prevention programs to reduce exposures.”1


1. Dement JM, Cloeren M, Ringen K, et al. COPD risk among older construction workers—updated analyses 2020. Am J Ind Med. 2021;1-14. doi:10.1002/ajim.2344

2. Dement JM, Welch L, Ringen K, Bingham E, Quinn P. Airways obstruction among older construction and trade workers at Department of Energy nuclear sites. Am J Ind Med. 2010;53(3):224‐240.