Workplace authorities regularly tout the need to work to prevent accidents during construction while a building or piece of infrastructure is being built up.
Just as important, however, is following strict safety procedures during demolition as buildings, walls and structures are being taken down.
Not so long ago, ‘Jack’ (whose real name has not been revealed), a worker who was undertaking the removal of an entire brick wall to enlarge a storage area within an established building in the Sydney CBD, had knocked out the bottom section of the wall with a sledgehammer.
Tragically, the wall collapsed and Jack was killed. Preliminary findings of an investigation indicate that the knocking out of the bottom section had weakened the wall to the point of collapse.
While tragic, WorkCover New South Wales says the incident highlights the importance of basic safety procedures during the manual takedown of any form of wall, especially those made of heavy material such as masonry or brickwork.
For starters, there are simple common-sense aspects such as making certain that any demotion work is carried out by suitably competent personnel and that those involved in the work are given adequate and appropriate training and instruction regarding safe demolition methods.
Before work starts, demolition procedures must be worked out and agreed upon. These must be specific to, and appropriate for, the demolition method used.
Then, there is the issue of securing the environment. In the interest of public safety, exclusion zones must be established to keep unauthorised people well away from any area which could be affected by an unexpected collapse or by any rebounding material while the job is in progress. Workers, too, should not be working on top of a wall being demolished.
Next, there is the proper safety equipment. Safety glasses, a dust mask, gloves and long-sleeved clothes must be worn as protection from flying objects and dust. Hearing protection should also be used to protect from excess noise levels. Where work is done at heights, appropriate fall protection also becomes necessary.
Finally, there is the procedure itself, whereby the demolition sequence must start from the top and masonry and brickwork should be taken down in reverse order to their construction. A hammer and chisel should be used when removing the top course of bricks and entire rows must be finished before the next row is started.
Under no circumstances whatsoever, WorkCover says, should the job be started at the bottom or should multiple rows of bricks be taken down at once – the job pictured above serving as a perfect example of what not to do.
In cases where a portion of a wall is being removed and brickwork or masonry is slated to be left above the opening, such as when installing new doors or windows in existing walls, WorkCover says, the upper area of masonry should be supported prior to commencement and the demolition should commence at the top of the intended opening.
Finally, WorkCover reminds all workers and contractors to check prior to starting any work to ensure that the wall being demolished is not providing support for other walls, which may become susceptible to collapse as the existing wall is being taken down.
Like other areas of safety, the manual demolition of walls and structures within a building is an area in which a few simple steps can make an enormous difference.
Had Jack have started his work from the top, maybe he might still be alive today.