CONSTRUCTION SITES REMAIN HAZARDOUS
In the last year, we have completed a large number of Construction Assessments including slip/falls, personal injuries, building component failures and construction claims preparation. This shows that sites are still hazardous.
Window Cleaning: Claims Lives
Cleaning windows on high rise buildings in Ontario remains a necessary but almost invisible sub-industry of building maintenance until a tragic accident occurs. Once again window cleaners, their equipment and work practices are brought into focus and chronicled on page one of your favourite daily newspaper.
Cleaning windows of high rise buildings is a competitive business where workers are paid on an incentive basis - so speed becomes paramount. What is considered unusual contractual arrangements in other industries is in some cases the norm for window cleaning; sometimes leaving the window cleaner to provide his own equipment. Fast and cheap unfortunately became the bywords in equipment selection. Protection of the worker was ignored. A Ministry of Labour task force in the 1980's showed more traditional equipment was abandoned in favour of lighter equipment, sometimes modified to make faster descent possible. Inexpensive recreational equipment intended for occasional or one time rescue usage became prominent in window cleaning operations.
Another rather disturbing fact was uncovered by the task force. Many existing buildings were not equipped to accommodate anchor window cleaning equipment or a personal fall protection system - an absolute must when working from a suspended work platform!
A real tragedy prior to 1986 was that new buildings were being designed and constructed without provision or consideration for cleaning the glass surfaces.
The task force recommendations led to two significant initiatives.
Firstly, the Ontario Building code Act was changed in 1986 to require provision of anchorage for window cleaning equipment. Secondly, an Ontario Regulation was filed in August 1988 to protect the health and safety of window cleaners primarily by restricting equipment and practices. Ontario Regulation 527/88 went one step further than the Ontario Building code Act in that it obligated owners of existing building to provide anchorage for suspended equipment and personal fall arrest systems used by window cleaners.
Retrofitting existing buildings is expensive due to the necessity of penetrating the long term guaranteed seamless roof membrane; however the anchor retrofitting program initiated in the Province of Ontario has received widespread support and is the single most important initiative for the protection of window cleaners.
Many problems remain to be solved. The design of relatively thin concrete roof slabs make the design of roof anchors difficult. Some metal clad structural steel framed buildings make proper location of anchors challenging. The current architectural focus on bringing the outdoors, indoors with liberal use of glass atriums and sloped prisms present particular challenges. Many sloping glass panels are not designed to carry the weight of a worker who must traverse the surface in order to clean it.
Crane Failures: Safety Hazards
Front page news and photographs showing crane failures were frequent during the recent building boom. Many chronicled death and/or serious injuries to the equipment operators and accompanying workers.
Detailed assessments are still in progress and will continue for years ahead. Findings show component failure, operator error, poor training, lack of experience, inadequate understanding of the operations and limitations of the equipment are the main causes. A reconstruction of the facts surrounding the accidents is by far the best way of illustrating and documenting the sequence of events leading to the incident. In many cases this requires a series of drawings and a technical analysis of complex factors.
The ultimate goal is to eliminate safety hazards and prevent future accidents.
Collapses: Need Code Assessment
Collapses at construction sites and component failures still present hazards and high costs. Take walls for example. There are still no uniform design standards for bracing walls during construction to prevent collapses.
It is also surprising and tragic, to learn of the limited knowledge at the site of the minimum safety requirements both during and after construction. This leads to component failures and unnecessary personal injury and suffering.
The application of new testing techniques and a critical path analysis of construction projects help assess the issues of liability. They also provide the first step towards prevention.
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Walters Forensic Engineering | 277 Wellington
Street West, Suite 800 | Toronto, ON M5V 3H2