The new Concrete Basics department will focus on the basic building blocks of concrete construction that everyone onsite needs to know. While there are many things important to concrete construction, such as quality work and making a profit, safety must always be the No. 1 priority. For that reason, we are starting with safety to emphasize its importance as critical to a successful project.
Most accidents are preventable. Accidents are often due to carelessness and not thinking through what you are doing. You MUST plan for safety. The following list of things to watch out for on a concrete construction jobsite is not intended to be comprehensive. It does, however, serve to alert you to some of the more common safety concerns of concrete construction:
- Fresh concrete can cause eye injuries and skin burns. When working with fresh concrete, wear protective clothing (a long-sleeved shirt, rubber boots, and rubber gloves) and eye protection to avoid getting fresh concrete on your skin or in your eyes. If you do get fresh concrete on your skin, wash it off with clean water. And remember that the tool clean-off bucket is not clean water.
- Finishers should wear long pants, work boots, knee pads (and use knee boards), and gloves. Immediately remove clothing that has become saturated with wet concrete.
- The simple use of personal protection equipment (PPEs—hard hats, gloves, boots, eye protection, fall protection, respirators, and so forth.) can save workers from the short-term and long-term effects of construction site conditions.
- Ear plugs must be used when the noise level gets to the point where you have to raise your voice to speak to the person working next to you. It doesn't take much exposure to noise to permanently damage your hearing.
- Dust masks or respirators must be worn whenever there's a chance of inhaling dirt, dust, chips, or mist; when you are cutting, grinding, or chipping hardened concrete; or when you are mixing epoxy or grout. Be sure to ask for training in the selection and use of a proper respirator. Another solution to this problem is to use wet methods or “dustless” vacuum tools.
- Ladders and stairways are major sources of injuries and fatalities among construction workers. Employers should ensure that employees are trained by a competent person in the nature of fall hazards; the correct procedure for erecting, maintaining, and disassembling fall protection systems; proper construction, use, placement, and care in handling stairways and ladders; and the maximum intended load-carrying capacity of ladders.
- Scaffolding should be solidly constructed, even if it is to be used only for a short time. Be sure uprights are uniformly spaced, plumb, and set on a good solid foundation. Use horizontal or diagonal bracing for stability. Planking should overlap the support by a minimum of 12 inches. Scaffolding should be tied to walls, buildings, or other structures. A competent person should inspect the scaffolding daily.
- The most hazardous moment when working at heights is when you are moving from place to place. That's why you always need to be tied off to something substantial—something that can support a dead weight of 5000 pounds. Any time you go over a guardrail to perform work, you must be tied off. Fall protection should also be worn when working at ground level around open excavations 6 feet or more in depth. Be sure to place guardrails around all openings in decks.
- Use ground-fault circuit interruption devices at all times when using vibrators and other electrical tools. Wet concrete and water are excellent conductors. GFCI devices will prevent electrocution.
- Make sure that all wire, rope, slings, shackles, and other lifting devices are sized correctly and inspected thoroughly before using. If something breaks under a lifting load, a lot of energy can be released. A flying cable can remove an arm or leg in an instant.
Remember, accidents don't just happen. They are more often than not the results of poor planning, improper training, or not thinking through each of your work activities.
This article is excerpted with permission from the ASCC/ACI Contractor's Guide to Quality Concrete Construction. The third edition is now available and serves as a basic text for concrete contractors. This book can be obtained at the World of Concrete, or from the American Concrete Institute or the American Society of Concrete Contractors.