Demolition work is arguably the most dangerous part of the construction industry. It is necessary to save time and get structures for individuals and businesses needing them. However, implementing demolition contractor safety still encounters some unique challenges, even if they take safety precautions and wear PPE. Whether you are part of a corporate outfit or operate independently, these are the best practices to avoid safety incidents.
Contractors must do more than just walk into a site and start lighting explosives or slamming heavy machinery into walls. Most demolition projects require a survey informing a demolition plan, regardless of whether you are a company or contractor. Plus, not all that machinery is required — the site could specifically advise against it, so it is critical to scope a location for its specifications and safety hazards before starting the job.
It is necessary to analyze the situation to ensure adherence to all safety precautions. Not all demolition projects contain the same materials or potential chemical exposure, so surveys are not one-size-fits-all. Contractors cannot make assumptions, which is why OSHA helps with these assessments. Thinking of OSHA while creating the plan will probe contractors to answer these safety and structural questions:
- What differences exist between initial construction blueprints and now?
- Do changes — if any — affect the structural integrity or promote collapse?
- Are toxic metals or chemicals present, such as lead paints or asbestos?
- Does it require specific machines or tools that inform PPE?
- Will demolition affect the community or surrounding environment?
- Do contractors have access to emergency medical and fire services?
Lastly, the job safety analysis will let contractors know how to brace structures, deal with electricity and plumbing, and cover gaps in the ground or floor that would incite safety concerns.
Buildings contain multiple materials and everything reacts differently to each equipment type — a jackhammer on concrete poses other risks than if it were on wood. Therefore, contractors secure their safety by becoming intimately familiar with materials and equipment that react to each other, even if they are less common like bamboo or use modern construction practices like 3D printing. There are dangers with home tools in DIY projects, so the severity is heightened in demolition contractor safety, especially since the materials can range from glass to silica.
Materials like concrete are particularly deceptive because they appear smooth and easy to crack. Their splintering is unpredictable and dust will inevitably get in the eyes — unless contractors wear adequate eye protection and respirators. Even with materials like wood or gypsum, a wrecker’s bar pulling out a nail could launch into unexpected places with inappropriate leverage or pressure, including a contractor’s body.
Train with these materials and equipment in controlled environments while wearing the correct PPE to learn how to perform jobs without injury. When using explosives, remember to use blasting caps and detonation cords with precision, and have accurate expectations for flying debris.
Some jobs require wrecking balls that take care of most of the work. However, there are hands-on facets that take a toll on the body. One of the best practices demolition contractors can take is having a regular exercise routine and diet regimen that supports muscle healing and strong joints.
The physicality of demolition is nothing to scoff at because — this includes strong mental health. After a long day of using tools, contractors find places ache that they never knew existed and may have a hard time keeping up morale. Taking the time to prepare the body will save countless unintended injuries in the long run.
If you feel the strain becoming too much mid-job, reaching out for assistance is always the right idea, even if it causes a setback in time. Anyone overseeing the job would rather everyone come out unscathed than contractors put unnecessary stress on their bodies, making them potentially unable to work.
Asbestos, lead, and other toxic materials exist on construction sites, especially when the job is an old build full of antiquated building practices. Only attempt to take care of these materials yourself if you have specific training, oversight, and permits. Materials like asbestos travel best when torn, releasing airborne particles in the air that are impossible to see and difficult to contain. Contractors — especially in the evaluation process — do not want to cause a safety hazard because they think they could demolish asbestos.
You will thank yourself if the situation calls for another contractor with more specified experience — like removing trees or preventing environmental destruction — before your part of the job. A simple call could save contractors from acute health conditions like pain or chronic ailments like lung disease or vision issues.
Regulatory bodies exist to upkeep demolition contractor safety — it is a best practice for protection concerns and legal purposes. It adds an extra set of eyes on the job, increasing your safety and the public’s. They are inexpensive, so regardless of a company’s size, they should never escape budgets, especially when they provide environmental and inspection compliance guidance.
You must provide details about the job — such as dimensions and property lines — which helps keep neighbors aware and safe. Some permits also explicitly prohibit explosive demolition means, so contractors must be mindful of what they are applying for when engaging with a job.
Best practices for contractors involve safety and communication. Embracing these two pillars will solidify the success of any demolition project. If you are independent, constantly collaborate with regulating bodies and refer to compliance guidelines if there are questions. Contractors with businesses can always provide suggestions or oversight to make practices even better for future demolition contractors.
About the Author
Emily Newton is an industrial writer who specializes in covering how technology is disrupting industrial sectors. She’s also the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized where she covers innovations in industry, construction, and more.