Demolition refers to the destruction, razing, and dismantling of large structures or buildings for renovation purposes or to make room for new structures. Naturally, this practice poses a number of hazards most of which are similar to most construction work. However, additional dangers involving hidden factors make this work particularly dangerous for workers and civilians.
- Modifications in the original design which the demolition team may be unaware of
- Unknown weaknesses in construction materials
- Materials that cannot be seen in the structure such as silica, asbestos, chemicals and heavy metals.
- Hazards resulting from the demolition methods.
Building renovations and remodeling often involve partial demolitions to make room for enhancements or space for more rooms. This exposes workers to hazards they may not recognize and the owner of the structure may not be aware of them either. This includes materials such as:
Lead fumes and dust
Grinding and cutting materials that are coated with lead based paint can result in lead dust and lead based fumes. The latter is generated from a torch used to cut tanks that held gas or other products that contained the substance. Lead is toxic and can lead to serious illnesses if inhaled. To prevent this, demolition workers should wear appropriate respiratory equipment in demolished areas.
Any material that has asbestos generates asbestos dust if it is handled or removed. Some of the materials that can contain this hazardous substance include insulation materials, fire resistant wall sections, columns made of steel and flooring.
Inhaling this dust can lead to respiratory issues such as lung cancer or the aptly named asbestosis. To prevent this from happening, these materials should be removed by a certified worker before any demolitions.
Most buildings contain silica in trace amounts since it occurs naturally in concrete, brick and stone. Naturally, if any of these materials are displaced, crushed, manhandled or grinded, the dust generated will contain crystalline silica.
Excessive exposure to this hazardous substance can lead to lung problems and silicosis. However, this can be prevented if dust levels are contained with wet or damp materials and PPE.
Fumes and gases
Gases and fumes are usually present in large buildings that were used as storage for chemicals or used to manufacture chemicals. Leftover tanks and pipes that were used in operations or which were used to burn chemical waste may still be present. These often contain residues that turn more toxic with age.
The degree of toxicity depends on the concentration of the fumes and gases present onsite. To prevent inhalation, workers should be equipped with respiratory equipment and clothing that can block contact with those surfaces. Ventilation should also be provided to eliminate exposure completely.
Most of these hazards are also present in confined spaces such as tanks and basements. Besides these, workers may also be exposed to low oxygen levels and flammable gases such as methane and carbon monoxide. To prevent accidents and inhalation, those spaces should be tested before workers are allowed inside.
Common effects of demolition hazards
Workers who come in contact with hazardous material such as pitch, solvents, acids and disinfectants can get dermatitis and other skin conditions. Allergic reactions to formaldehyde, chromium, nickel etc are also common in personnel who work in demolition teams. As mentioned before, protective thick clothing and gloves are usually sufficient to prevent these ailments.
Besides skin and lung conditions, workers can also suffer from hearing impairment from exposure to the noise from heavy equipment. This includes jackhammers, compressors and other heavy duty equipment commonly used in demolition work. With time, excessive exposure can lead to permanent hearing loss. To prevent this, workers should be made to wear protective gear meant to reduce noise levels as they work.
40-hour EM 385-1-1 USACE Safety & Health
Any contractor who is working using EM385 regulations has to complete specific requirements to ensure compliance. The EM 385-1-1 is a manual that was released by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It comprises of safety standards that have to be followed to ensure a worksite is safe for all involved.