Before the Fall: Safety Planning for Demolition Projects

demolition
From 2009 to 2013, OSHA issued nearly 1,000 citations for violations of OSHA’s construction demolition standards. The most common citation was for failure to conduct an engineering survey to determine the condition of the structure prior to demolition.

OSHA’s standard specifically states, “Prior to permitting employees to start demolition operations, an engineering survey shall be made, by a competent person, of the structure to determine the condition of the framing, floors, and walls, and possibility of unplanned collapse of any portion of the structure. Any adjacent structure where employees may be exposed shall also be similarly checked. The employer shall have in writing evidence that such a survey has been performed.”

There are several factors which make demolition work particularly dangerous, including:

  • 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.
  • Unmarked emergency exits, improper storage of oxygen and fuel gas cylinders and electrical hazards.

Once these potentially hazardous situations are identified in a demolition project, workers can be trained accordingly and given the proper equipment such as respiratory protection, protective clothing and equipment.

In addition to the potential for extreme danger, the cost of non-compliance with these demolition standards is high. OSHA recently cited a Bridgeport, Conn., worksite, where workers demolishing and rehabbing a building were exposed to potentially fatal crushing injuries due to the employer’s failure to brace the building’s walls and adhere to basic, legally required safeguards. OSHA cited the contractor for 12 serious violations ($56,000 in fines) for a variety of alleged health and safety hazards, including having workers dry-sweep and shovel lead-containing waste materials and debris.

OSHA recently launched an updated demolition website to address the hazards common in demolition operations and the safety measures that can be taken to prevent them. The updated Demolition page provides information on applicable OSHA standards, hazard assessments, measures that can be taken to prevent injuries and illnesses before site work begins.

For more information, demolition hazards are addressed in specific standards for the construction industry.

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