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demolition project

Running a Demolition Project? Know Your Risks

Construction demolition is an extraordinarily high-risk business. Ensuring the safety of all involved, including on-site employees and people who live or work nearby, is a joint effort involving the client, the designer, the general contractor, construction managers and construction staff. Nevertheless, if you’re the general contractor on a demolition job, the responsibility for managing the site and keeping everyone safe ultimately falls on you.

The major risks in construction demolition fall into seven distinct categories. Below we give a brief summary of each one and a few tips for keeping the job site safe.

Hazardous Materials

Before a demolition project can begin, the site must be surveyed and assessed for the presence of any hazardous materials, such as asbestos and respirable crystalline silica (RSC). Other contaminants may also be present, including:

  • Flammable liquids
  • Toxic chemicals
  • Paints and varnishes
  • Unidentified containers
  • Microbial hazards (e.g. mold, fungi or bacteria)

Depending on the substances identified, appropriate abatement procedures will be necessary before demolition can proceed.

Connected Services

Although the client will most likely ensure that connected services such as water, gas and electricity are disconnected before demolition begins, the general contractor is ultimately responsible for ensuring that these services have been shut off. If some services are left on (e.g. in a partial demo) it’s up to the contractor to make certain that all pipes and cables are clearly marked so they are protected while demolition takes place

Traffic Management

A third critical aspect of planning a demolition project is traffic management. Erecting barriers, creating walkways, adding signage, and minimizing obstructions are all important aspects of a well-thought out traffic-management plan. During this planning stage, consider important questions, such as how to:

  • Keep pedestrians away from high-risk zones
  • Control traffic flow
  • Train vehicle and equipment operators
  • Minimize vehicle movement throughout the site
  • Improve visibility (e.g. backup cameras, CCTV, strategically placed mirrors, etc.)


Falls from Height

Falls from height are the leading cause of workplace fatalities in the United States. According to OSHA, nearly 40 percent of all workplace deaths in 2015 resulted from a fall. Nonetheless, in 2016, the top cause of OSHA citations for violations in workplace safety standards was inadequate fall protection, and scaffolding violations were number three.

Demolition sites are rife with fall-related dangers. These include but aren’t limited to fragile surfaces, such as partially demolished floors and roofs. Workers can fall through newly opened holes or from poorly marked edges. Improperly positioned ladders and unstable scaffolding also pose a significant risk.

Before sending employees to work at height, first determine if the work can be safely done from the ground. If that’s not possible, assess the risks carefully, and review OSHA’s standards for working at heights. Install fall-prevention systems as appropriate and necessary. And assign a trained person to assess the area for fall hazards and warn workers if an area they are approaching is unsafe.

Injury from Falling Objects

The second-leading cause of U.S. workplace fatalities is injuries from falling objects, which account for about 10 percent of all on-the-job deaths. In a demolition zone, workers or passers-by can be injured by unsecured tools and materials or falling debris from an uncontrolled collapse.

To minimize the risk of debris-related injuries, establish clearly marked exclusion zones and hard-hat areas, and cover walkways that may be used by workers or passersby. Use high-reach machines to remove large debris safely, and ensure that machine cabs are capable of withstanding the force of an object dropped from a height. Additionally, comply with OSHA standards that require that all materials are stored at least 6 feet from any floor opening or hoistway, and at least 10 feet from all exterior walls.

Uncontrolled Collapse

One of the most important functions of the general contractor on a demolition project is preventing uncontrolled collapse. When determining the sequence for the demo, consider all the factors involved, including:

  • The age of the structure
  • Its prior use
  • The type of construction
  • The weight of material already removed, such as tools and machinery
  • Nearby buildings

Additionally, erect barriers that prevent the public from accessing the area and install hoarding to contain the debris. If necessary, consult with local authorities to ensure closure of adjacent streets while demolition is taking place.

Although uncontrolled collapse is a rare event, it’s also important to have a strategy in place for providing immediate first aid and rescue efforts until first responders arrive.

Worker Training

Perhaps the single most important aspect of managing a demolition project safely is ensuring that all workers are appropriately trained. This includes training in the use of fall prevention and other safety equipment, safe handling of suspect materials, equipment safety and a great deal more. Actively engage your workers in the process of establishing and maintaining a safe job site by soliciting their input about workplace hazards and acting swiftly to address any issues that arise. If your employees know that you take workplace safety seriously they will be much more likely to do the same.

Learn More

At the Carmoon Group, we specialize in helping construction contractors manage risk. Whether you’re looking for custom-designed business insurance program or just want to review the coverage you currently have, we’re here to help. Why not give us a call today to set up an appointment for your insurance review? Or simply reach out online and we’ll get back to you right away.

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Floyd Arthur

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