Thursday, October 29, 2015

Demolition Safety: Unique Considerations

Katie Schofield, PhD, CSP, ARM, CHST, CSRM, is a risk consultant based in Minneapolis, MN. She and John Lloyd, a vice president with Lloyd’s Construction Services Inc. in Savage, MN, will present “Construction in Reverse: The Safety Behind Selective Demolition” on Nov. 12 during ASSE’s Construction Symposium in New Orleans, LA. We recently spoke with her about some of the special risks encountered during demolition

ASSE: Describe some unique hazards involved in demolition projects.
Katie: Demolition is a part of construction that mixes the activities and hazards of almost every construction trade into one. It is diverse, it is rapidly changing. Every job is different. The “unknown” is the biggest hazard on every job.

When selective demolition crews begin a job, they are inheriting a structure and site. They don’t know with 100% certainly what occurred during the construction and life of the location, whereas most other trades can observe and see how a project is advancing and what is occurring in real time, prior to and when they come on site.

Some unique considerations include:

  • initial structural integrity, and maintaining it as work and the project progresses;
  • chemicals and asbestos, decontamination, clean-up and remediation;
  • animal/pest hazards;
  • business continuation (e.g., general public and project owners still utilizing the site);
  • crashing, crunching and splintering debris;
  • remote demolition (demo robots);
  • high-reach demolition;
  • specialized equipment and attachments;
  • debris, waste management and reclamation,

ASSE: Discuss why such hazards might be overlooked or unplanned for.
Katie: Conducting thorough preconstruction planning and surveying should account for hazards adequately. However, in some cases hazards can be unaccounted for the following reasons:

  • Abandoned, bankrupt, foreclosed properties may have no one to contact for information on the project.
  • Past flood, fire or disaster modified or damaged the structure.
  • Residual fluids, chemicals, oils and gases may be present in selective demolition areas.
  • The site may allow for less staging and removal of debris and waste than planned.
  • The job requires the crew to perform nonroutine tasks or techniques.
  • Blueprints or structural information does not exist or is inaccurate, which can be typical in historical renovation projects.

ASSE: What are some effective protective strategies that can be used to manage these hazards and prevent injuries/illnesses?
Katie: A project prestart survey, conducted by a trained and experienced individual, can identify known and potential hazards so they can be proactively planned for or accounted for in the bid. Communication with general contractors and project owners is essential for selective demolition, and the level and frequency of communication needed to make a successful project is probably higher than other trades. It is also important to have a variety of safety and equipment options (beyond what is already planned) available so employees can quickly adapt to changing needs or conditions as they arise. Plus, there is increasing ability to have specialized equipment perform higher risk work to minimize employee risk.

ASSE: What are some key steps in planning a demolition project?
Katie: The demolition presurvey is crucial. National Demolition Association has a presurvey that is extremely thorough. It’s available as a free PDF download. Communication is also very important.

ASSE: What challenges might an OSH professional face when getting management to support these planning efforts?
Katie: Primary challenges include:

  • Planning efforts can be extensive and often require time, documentation and thorough follow-up.
  • Surveys for hazardous materials (e.g., asbestos, lead, chemicals) can be expensive, and responsibility for the surveys (and cost) may change depending on the project.
  • Projects can be so diverse, new or unique (safety) equipment may need to be purchased for a single job that may not be used again in the foreseeable future.
  • Work must not start until all of the correct preplanning paperwork is completed. If this starts to compromise budgets and timelines, there may be pressure to cut corners.

ASSE: Any final thoughts?
Katie: Employees must be given the tools to be on-the-job problem-solvers, whether that means equipment, management support, training, communication skills, leadership opportunities, continuing skill development or similar things. Employees also need a solid understanding of safety principles and equipment and how to apply them in diverse situations.