Safety Precautions when Handling and Disposing of Construction and Demolition Material

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.

By Bill Weber

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

Developing Comprehensive Safety Guidelines

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 a 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 that 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. Wood, drywall and carpeting in large pieces may need to be cut smaller 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 cannot 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 structures—a house, office buildings, apartment complexes, bridges, retail stores, hotels/motels, schools—that are torn down. With demolition, a different type of waste is produced. Some of the more common waste includes 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 that 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 and 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.

Advance Planning and Preparation

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 cleanup 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.

Bill Weber is Vice President of Franchise Support for redbox+ (Winona, MN) a national franchise system specializing in construction and demolition waste collection and disposal. Bill has more than 30 years of experience in the franchise and business development, residential remodeling and waste disposal industries. He can be reached at (507) 452-8242 or e-mail bill.weber@redboxplus.com.

Fully loaded redbox+ of Charlotte waste container ready for pickup and disposal.