Demolition work is one of the most hazardous and potentially unsafe fields for American workers. Falling concrete and debris, controlled explosions, and unsteady structures can spell trouble for the thousands of workers involved in demolition work.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established a new set of guidelines for demolition, which is defined as the “dismantling, razing, destroying, or wrecking of any building or structure or any part thereof.” With the right planning, the right protective equipment, adequate training, and compliance with OSHA standards, demolition-related deaths and injuries can be minimized.
Demolition encompasses many of the same hazards as construction. However, demolition work also includes additional hazards, often stemming from:
- 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
OSHA has outlined steps and procedures for minimizing risk on demolition sites, including the following:
An engineering survey should be performed before any demolition work starts; this survey will help determine the condition of the structure and the likelihood of an unexpected collapse. Supervisors should also determine a fire prevention system, an evacuation plan, and plan for first aid and emergency medical services.
The employer of any demolition worker is required to determine the required personal protective equipment—as well as train them on the use, fit, inspection, maintenance, and storage of such equipment. On a demolition site, personal protective equipment can include:
- Eye, face, head, hand, and foot protection
- Respiratory protection
- Hearing protection
- Personal fall arrest systems
- Other protective clothing
The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that employers provide a safe workplace, including instruction on how to recognize and avoid hazards that have potential to cause injury or illness. Demolition workers must be properly trained in safety procedures for their safety and the safety of other employees.
OSHA issued nearly 1,000 citations for violations of its demolition standards between 2009 and 2013. The most common citation was for failure to conduct an engineering survey to establish the condition of the building prior to demolition.
“Demolition workers face many hazards and their lives should not be sacrificed because of deliberate neglect of demolition fundamentals,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels in a news release. “Employers must ensure that all workers involved in a demolition project are fully aware of hazards and safety precautions before work begins and as it progresses.”
The news release came in response to the June 20 death of a New Jersey construction worker who was trapped while demolishing an old Blockbuster building. Just six months earlier, a 25-year-old worker in Chicago was killed by falling concrete pieces during renovations to a shopping mall. And in June 2013, the devastating collapse of a four-story building during a demolition project in Philadelphia killed six workers and injured another 14.