OSHA defines demolition as the dismantling, razing, destroying or wrecking of any building or structure or any part thereof.
Based on what you see on TV, demolition looks like it might be a lot of fun. Whether you are attacking an old wall with a sledgehammer or blowing-up a 15-story building, what could be more exciting and stress relieving than tearing something apart?
Unfortunately, demolition work is much more dangerous than it is fun.
Going into a structure without a plan and knocking things down is a good way to get yourself and others (including innocent bystanders) seriously injured. That’s why we are going to review what you need to plan before starting structural or building demolition.
Demolition work has all the hazards of construction and more.
Not only does demolition involve all of the hazards of construction, but there can also be many additional, unforeseen hazards such as lead-based paint, “live” utilities, sharp or protruding objects and asbestos-containing materials. OSHA lists a few of these dangerous hazards that may exist in any structure set for demolition:
- Unknown changes made to the structure’s design during construction
- Approved or unapproved modifications that altered the original design
- Hidden construction materials such as lead, asbestos, silica, and other chemicals or heavy metals requiring special material handling
- Unknown strengths or weaknesses of construction materials, ranging from rotted wood supports to post-tensioned concrete
- Hazards created by the actual process of demolition
OSHA insists on proper training in demolition work. “Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), Public Law 91-596:
- Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for employees.
- Employers must instruct employees on how to recognize and avoid or remove hazards that may cause an injury or illness based on their assigned duties.
- Certain OSHA construction standards require that employees receive training on specific topics.
- Employers must provide this safety training in a language and vocabulary their workers can understand.”
In other words, many of the risks of demolition can be controlled or eliminated with proper planning, training, protective equipment, and compliance with OSHA standards.
The most frequently cited demolition violation found by OSHA.
Proper and thorough planning is the key to a successful demolition project. According to OSHA, the most frequently cited demolition violation is 1926.850(a) – Preparatory operations. “This standard accounts for up to three-fourths of the citations on a demolition worksite. Specifically, 1926.850(a)(1), which requires an “engineering survey” to be completed prior to starting demolition, accounts for more than half of these preparatory operations citations.”
4 steps to properly plan for a demolition project.
As you can see, you don’t walk in and start swinging at a wall. That’s not demolition. That’s stupidity. Instead, a great deal of planning is involved, even in a home remodeling job, before the actual demolition begins.
There are four basic steps involved in demolition planning.
1. Survey the building and the surrounding area.
- Look at how the structure was constructed and the types of construction materials used.
- Focus on hazardous materials onsite including wastewater, toxic chemicals, and asbestos.
- Locate all utilities and shut-offs.
- Check if demolition may cause environmental problems such as run-off into nearby creeks.
- Examine how the demolition area may link into other structures such as shared walls.
- See how the demolition work may affect the surrounding area, traffic, and neighbors.
2. Survey the design and construction.
- See how the building was originally designed and note the quality of construction– original blueprints are invaluable!
- Note modifications and changes made over the years.
- Examine the overall integrity of the structural system including basements and underground storage areas.
- Look at the condition of the building today.
3. Locate and remove hazardous materials before demolition.
- Someone on the job must be familiar with recognizing hazardous materials and how to remove them safely.
- Besides asbestos, other hazardous materials could include petroleum products, radioactive materials, and highly reactive liquids.
4. Develop a plan for demolition.
- Based on what you have seen, create a step-by-step plan for demolition.
- Develop a detailed sequence of procedures showing what needs to be removed first, what may need to be reinforced, what areas need protection, what authorities and others need to be alerted to your demolition plans, etc.
- Plan how you will protect other areas, the public, other workers, etc. while your demolition is in progress.
- Plan and coordinate the safe and environmentally proper removal of debris.
- Set a reasonable time-frame for the entire process.
Where to get additional information about demolition.
There are many sources for more information about demolition. Here are two that you will want to check out.
- National Demolition Association – this industry trade group has compiled a list of Industry Standards
- OSHA Resources – OSHA has posted several links related to demolition and safety:
You can also learn about construction safety and get your OSHA certification by completing our online construction safety courses.