#HazardSpotting: Concrete cutting and work safety zones

| June 3, 2013

#HazardSpotting is a community safety initiative that helps raise awareness about dangerous workplace safety violations. Our readers submit photos, and we write a post with special guest insight from featured safety experts. This week Patrick Sullivan comments on a photo taken of a masonry saw by a MySafetySign employee.

New York City is a busy, crowded place. We live stacked on top of one another, with hundreds of businesses jockeying for our attention at street level. And the streets themselves raise chaos to an art form: cars, delivery vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, buses, even rickshaws, all competing for some real estate. So it’s not surprising that construction work on our busy roadways can get a little casual.

We’re getting finely tuned these days to the #HazardSpotting all around us, so when we spotted this professional concrete cutter doing his job here in Brooklyn, a few things jumped out at us. (Although thankfully, the spare disc you see below didn’t actually  jump out at us).

Construction worker monitors concrete cutting

This construction worker monitors the saw, while the spare blade sits ahead as a … guide?

Construction worker monitors concrete cutting

The bright PPE overalls are a good idea, but what about protecting his eyes?

Personal protective equipment

The most glaring omission in these photos is probably the lack of safety goggles. This is Personal Protective Equipment 101: there’s a risk for flying particles when using any type of saw, and especially when cutting into concrete. Goggles help protect the eyes from dust, too, which poses its own particular hazard in this photo. Crystalline silica is a component of concrete, so airborne silica dust can be produced during construction work, particularly during cutting or sawing. You can see they’re already working wet, which is a major component of silica dust minimization, but a respirator would go a long way to protect our friend in the photo.

Protecting passersby

The second biggest hazard we spotted right away is in the immediate environment around the cutter. You can see a few traffic cones in the photo. You might be tempted to think those cones are just an extra layer of protective barrier for the workers in the work zone, but actually they were the only layer of protection; there were no other diversion efforts in place (either for the pedestrians or the cars). This busy Brooklyn street was basically open for business while a dangerous power tool was in active use. The New York City Department of Transportation, in its Street Works Manual, says the following: “Employ and display appropriate barricades, signs, lights, and other approved traffic control devices in accordance with the most recent version of the MUTCD, published by the Federal Highway Administration, and the New York State Supplement.” Even when closing off the street completely isn’t required, there should be someone to flag traffic around the temporary work being done.

Safety gloves, runoff, and an air pollution permit

As part of our #HazardSpotting efforts, we’ve been connecting with a lot of industry experts and safety consultants, and after our own evaluation, we passed the photos onto Patrick Sullivan, a safety officer with Whiting Turner. It’s been so interesting to hear other perspectives, and to see what the true professionals will spot in a photo that might get missed by an interested or concerned bystander. Here’s Patrick’s take:

hazard spotting comments

Click to enlarge.

As you can see, Patrick also spotted a lack of safety glasses, and another PPE issue we missed: our construction worker should be wearing latex or nitrile gloves underneath his leather gloves, as an added layer of protection against hazardous chemicals and particles (of course that’s hard to confirm without x-ray, but it’s a good reminder).

Another interesting question that Patrick raises is the runoff from the wet cutting that’s being done to reduce airborne dust. While the application of wet work is laudable (and required), it creates its own problems with storm drain runoff; as Patrick points out, there should probably be a wet vacuum onsite.

Patrick also raised an interesting question about the air pollution permit that might be required here. Although we don’t know for certain that the construction team did or didn’t get the appropriate permit for this work, we looked through product specifications for these types of walk-behind saws (it looks like it’s at least a 26″ blade, but it could be bigger), and some of them have engines up to 60HP, so it’s definitely a good question.

We’d love to hear from you, too. Do you agree with our assessment of the scene? Do you have anything to add to Patrick’s observations?

More about #HazardSpotting

Think you’ve seen an unsafe work condition? Whether it’s construction, manufacturing, or food safety, we’ll investigate the hazard. Snap a picture and share your story with us by sending an email to the editor at Krissa (at) Smartsign.com. We’ll write a post and consult a safety expert. Did we miss anything? Comment below.

Thanks to Patrick Sullivan, our featured safety expert. Patrick Sullivan is a Site Safety and Health Officer at The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, a leader the in construction management, contracting, and safety industry.

Category: #HazardSpotting, Construction