Fundamentals of Demolition Safety

Demolition, the dismantling, razing, destroying or wrecking of any building, is often referred to as construction in reverse. Demolition work involves many of the hazards associated with construction, however there are additional hazards due to unknown factors which makes demolition work particularly dangerous. These may include:

  • Changes from the structure’s design introduced during construction;
  • Approved or unapproved modifications that altered the original design;
  • Materials hidden within structural members, such as lead, asbestos, silica, and other chemicals or heavy metals requiring special material handling;
  • Unknown strengths or weaknesses of construction materials, such as post-tensioned concrete;
  • Hazards created by the demolition methods used.

In one prominent case, OSHA found several violations of safety standards by a Philadelphia construction company. On the three days leading up to the collapse, the company removed critical, structural supports for the wall that collapsed. The OSHA demolition standards prohibit the removal of lateral support walls more than one story high, leaving the wall unsupported. The company also removed parts of the lower floors prior to the removal of the upper floors, resulting in two willful violations for the failure to demolish the building from the top down and to have an engineering survey by a competent person on the possibility of collapse prior to starting the demolition.

The hazards of demolition work can be controlled and eliminated with the proper planning, the right personal protective equipment, necessary training, and compliance with OSHA standards.

Proper planning for a demolition project includes, but is not limited to:

  • An engineering survey completed by a competent person before any demolition work takes place. This should include the condition of the structure and the possibility of an unplanned collapse.
  • Locating, securing, and/or relocating any nearby utilities. For help, call 811 before you dig.
  • Fire prevention and evacuation plan.
  • First Aid and Emergency Medical Services.
  • An assessment of health hazards completed before any demolition work takes place.

The employer must determine what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be required.  In demolition operations, PPE may include:

  • Eye, face, head, hand, foot protection
  • Respiratory protection
  • Hearing protection
  • Personal Fall Arrest Systems

For more information and assistance, contact our offices at Diversified Safety Services.

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