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'Protect roadworkers against lung damage from asphalt fumes'

Did you know that some forms of work may give you a higher risk of developing lung disease? Asphalt pavers are an example of this. A study done with road workers from a large road construction company in Norway found that the lung function of asphalt pavers deteriorates every year. This finding calls for better solutions to prevent exposure to asphalt fumes.

We’ve all seen road maintenance workers and asphalt pavers at work. You might think working in asphalt fumes may have a negative effect on lung function. And you would be right: exposure to oil mist in asphalt fumes has been shown to exceed the Scandinavian occupational exposure limit on some occasions. The oil mist may even cause pulmonary fibrosis! Therefore, Ulvestad and colleagues investigated lung function decline in a group of asphalt pavers and compared them to a reference group of road workers. They also investigated possible signs of lung disease.


In this study done in Norway, 75 asphalt pavers and 71 road maintenance workers were included. The road maintenance workers were included as a reference group. Both groups were followed-up for five years with questionnaires and yearly lung function measurements. The investigators separately investigated screedmen as they are the most exposed group, walking behind the paving machine unprotected by the cabin.

The investigators found that the lung function of asphalt pavers declined faster than the lung function of the reference group of road maintenance workers. The screedmen showed an even larger decline compared to the other asphalt pavers. In three of the screedmen, signs associated with interstitial lung disease were found. However, they had been exposed to quartz in earlier dusty occupations, which might be the cause of these signs. Ulvestad and colleagues say that the deterioration of lung function they found in asphalt pavers may be caused by the exposure to asphalt fumes. These findings call for better technological solutions to prevent exposure in this group of road workers.

Ulvestad B, Randem BG, et al. Lung function in asphalt pavers: a longitudinal study. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2017;90:63-71