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May 09, 2014
Demolition hazards cost nearly $200K for contractor; Tips for safe demolitions

A Connecticut contractor was fined $196,000 and cited with two willful and 12 serious violations following an OSHA inspection of a site where workers were demolishing and rehabbing a building. What did the employer do wrong, and how can you avoid making the same mistakes? Keep reading to find out.

According to OSHA, 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,” according to Robert Kowalski, OSHA’s area director in Bridgeport.

 In addition, workers at the site were exposed to falls of up to 36 feet (ft) from unguarded wall openings and were not adequately protected from exposure to lead at the worksite. “Worker safety and health were blatantly ignored,” commented Kowalski. The two willful violations each carried the maximum fine of $70,000.

A variety of additional safety and health hazards triggered the serious violations, which led to an additional $56,000 in penalties. These included having workers dry sweep and shovel lead-containing waste materials and debris and failing to supply workers with proper training, respiratory protection, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Other safety hazards included unmarked emergency exits, improper storage of oxygen and fuel gas cylinders, and electrical hazards.

The current citations come almost a year after a building collapse in a Philadelphia demolition project killed 6 people and injured 14. In that case, one of the contractors involved was fined $313,000, and the other was fined $84,000.

Demolition safety basics

Demolition work can be extremely hazardous. Many of the same hazards associated with construction work are involved, but unknown factors such as deviations from a structure’s original design, materials hidden within structures, and unknown strengths or weaknesses of damaged materials create additional risks. All workers involved in demolition projects must be fully aware of these hazards and the necessary safety precautions to protect themselves.

The following are some of OSHA’s requirements for safe demolition work:

  • Before beginning work, a competent person must conduct an engineering survey to determine the condition of the framing, floors, and walls, and the possibility of collapse of any portion of the structure.
  • All utilities (electricity, gas, water, sewer, etc.) must be shut off, capped, or otherwise controlled outside the building before demolition work begins.
  • Wall openings to which employees are exposed must be protected to a height of 42 inches.
  • Except for preparatory work, demolition of exterior walls and floor construction must begin at the top of the structure and proceed downward.
  • Employee entrances to multistory structures being demolished must be completely protected by sidewalk sheds, canopies, or both, which must be capable of sustaining a load of 150 pounds per square foot.
  • Wall sections greater than 1 story in height must be supported with lateral bracing unless the wall sections were originally designed and constructed without lateral bracing and are in a safe condition to be self-supporting.
  • Workers must be provided with walkways or ladders to safely access and exit from scaffolds and walls.
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