Demolition Safety Fundamentals Ignored in Recent Cases

OSHA, NDA provide resources for safe demolition

By Roy Maurer May 19, 2014

Demolition work carries all the hazards associated with construction work and then some, due to unknowns such as deviations from a structure’s original design, hidden hazardous substances and objects, and unknown structural weaknesses of building materials.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently fined a Connecticut contractor $196,000 following a November 2013 inspection that found that workers demolishing and rehabbing a building in Bridgeport failed to brace the building’s walls and adhere to basic demolition safety requirements.

According to the citation, the company removed flooring from the second and third floors without bracing the building’s walls, leaving “an empty, unsupported shell that was vulnerable to collapse.” In addition, workers at the site were exposed to falls of up to 36 feet from unguarded wall openings and were not adequately protected from exposure to lead at the worksite.

“This employer’s disregard of basic demolition safety fundamentals is unacceptable. The seriousness of this hazard can be seen in the June 5, 2013, building collapse in Philadelphia that killed six people and injured 14,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “While no collapse occurred in Bridgeport, the hazard was real, present and entirely avoidable.”

In the Philadelphia building collapse, OSHA found several violations of its construction demolition standards and issued citations to the two demolition companies involved. The accident occurred because the building’s structural supports, including some of its wooden joists, had been removed early in the demolition, leaving walls and floors without adequate support. The walls eventually caved in, dumping tons of bricks and debris onto the roof of a Salvation Army store next door, killing and injuring employees and shoppers inside. The contractor responsible for overseeing the work was charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office.

Conducting Safe Demolition Work

The preparation done before demolition work begins is key to safeguarding the health and safety of workers at the job site. “Planning for a demolition job is as important as actually doing the work. Therefore all planning work should be performed by a competent person experienced in all phases of the demolition work to be performed,” OSHA said.

The agency’s demolition safety page, which includes links to OSHA’s regulations related to demolition work and other resources, can be found here.

The National Demolition Association (NDA), representing over 1,000 U.S. and Canadian companies, partnered with OSHA to develop safety resources—videos, publications and training—designed to improve safety and health on demolition sites, said Executive Director Michael R. Taylor.

Helpful safety resources include the NDA Demolition Safety Manual, a sample pre-start project engineering survey, resources on asbestos and lead protection, and a hazard communication manual with a partial list of safety data sheets for materials typically found at a demolition site.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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