Safe Precautions when Handling & Disposing Construction and Demolition Material

Job site waste; it’s not only unsightly, it can be dangerous as well. Construction crews can easily injure themselves if proper precautions aren’t being taken. Cuts, scrapes, punctures, strains, sprains, and eye injuries can commonly occur. And those are relatively minor incidents depending on what’s laying around and how debris is being handled. Serious injuries and in some cases even fatalities can happen.

Building an average size home usually produces nearly 10,000 pounds in construction related waste. With that being said, generating that amount of waste requires some forethought in managing waste placement (on the job site) and actual disposal. Some of these materials may be classified as hazardous so accommodations for proper disposal of these items also come into play. Developing guidelines for safe handling and disposal of construction waste is always considered a “best practice” and one that should be clearly communicated to work crews. Following are few safety rules that can help get you started on developing more comprehensive guidelines applicable to your business and area of specialty.

Protective Wear: Work crews should be required to wear protective clothing when working on construction sites that is most appropriate for the job. Some of the basic yet more important items include hard hats, safety eye-wear, dust masks, steel toed and or rubber boots, dust masks, heavy duty gloves, ear plugs or muffs, and safety yellow/green vests or shirts.

Construction Waste: Many of the materials disposed of on a construction site are sharp and have irregular shapes. Some of the materials can be small and relatively easy to handle while others are large and require special handling. Waste items can include the following materials – re-bar, glass, screws, nails, steel, drywall, tar paper, bricks, cable, and wire to mention just a few. The point here, is that work crews should always be mindful of the types of material they will come in contact with so that they can take the necessary precautions to avoid injury.

Handling/Disposal of Construction Waste: Special care and caution must be taken when handling certain types of construction waste. Large amounts of concrete may require the use of a loader. Steel, re-bar, pipe and wire bent in unconventional shapes my require cutting to conform to the shape and size of the waste container; and certainly warrant extra care when loading. Nails, glass, and tile that are exposed can cause injury. And wood, drywall, and carpeting in large pieces may need to be cut into smaller sizes before safely lifting into a dumpster. Other items may contain dust particles; fiberglass and insulation being the primary culprits. A mask is essential in these situations to eliminate or reduce the risk of inhaling harmful airborne particles. Always be aware of materials that you suspect as asbestos bearing. These will require a qualified/certified asbestos abatement team for disposal.

Barriers: If construction waste can’t be immediately disposed of in a waste container, always place yellow warning tape or some type of barrier and signs around piles left lying on the ground. The barriers and signs should be affixed to the ground as a way to discourage their removal. Account for a minimum of 5 feet clearance between the waste pile and the barrier. Signs should be fully visible at all times around waste piles and construction waste piles should be removed as quickly as possible.

Demolition Waste: Demolition waste is produced from any structure like a house, office buildings, apartment complexes, bridges, retail stores, hotels/motels, schools are torn down. With demolition a different type of waste is produced. Some of the more common include concrete, bricks, wood, sinks, shingles, bathtubs, toilets, pumps, cabinetry, counter tops, hot water tanks, glass, molding, foam, stucco, steel beams, and insulation materials. Here again demolition crews should always be mindful of the type of waste they are dealing with and handle as such.

Hazardous/Toxic Waste: Construction and demolition can produce hazardous or toxic waste materials. Lead paint, tar, chemical based glue and caulking, asbestos (panels & insulation), fuels, and corrosive materials are some of the more common. Mold can be an issue as well, especially from materials associated with demolition in warmer-humid climates. When construction or demolition waste is suspected of containing toxic substances it must be disposed of at a hazardous waste facility. Most county and municipal landfills will not accept toxic and some hazardous materials. Handling and disposing of toxic waste requires the use of personal protective equipment including a full body jump suit and a respirator.

Handling and disposing of construction and demolition waste can be risky. However, with advance planning and preparation, risk of injury can be mitigated substantially. Knowing what the material is and what it contains before you start clean-up and disposal is very important. Always dispose of construction waste at an approved site and using a tarp (or tarping system) to cover the waste container will prevent hazardous debris from being blown out and onto the roadway.

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