3 tips for avoiding deadly structural collapses on construction jobsites

Updated Nov 17, 2014


Construction accidents often seem to occur in spurts, as you’ll hear of a cluster of accidents grouped together in a short period of time. That’s certainly the case right now with collapsing walls, as four workers have died in structural collapses since November 1.

In at least two of the accidents, proper permitting for the work was not obtained, and one of the contractors was unlicensed. Sometimes on smaller jobs that don’t add much to the bottom line, contractors take shortcuts in order to get the job done on time and under budget. While it’s a terrible reminder that unlicensed, unqualified people should not be handling construction jobs, it’s also a lesson in what can happen if you fail to take the proper precautions just because it’s a job with a quick turnaround, or because you think no one will know the difference.

Even if you’re working on the smallest of projects, either alone or with just a couple of crew members, treat the possibility of a wall collapse—even if it’s just a retaining wall—with the same respect you would any size job. Remember your safety training, and keep these factors in mind.

1. Check the conditions.

Prior to beginning work, check out the condition of any concrete or brick walls or facades you’ll be working around. Look for signs of movement such as cracks, bulges and sagging. If the wall is weakened or deteriorated, consider it a hazard and erect temporary bracing.

2. Re-evaluate throughout the job.

As you continue to work on the project, keep an eye on any wall your initial assessment deemed a potential problem. Look for changes to the structure that could pose a danger to you and others. Your risk assessment should take into account the length of time any bracing has been in place, and if the bracing has been subjected to stress, such as sustained high winds.

3. Use both your PPE and your common sense.

Only workers currently on the clock should be in the area. Restrict access to necessary personnel only. For those who are working in the area, hard hats, safety glasses and steel toe boots are a must. In the event of a collapse, the right PPE can reduce the severity of an injury.