Construction Concerns: Contractor Hazards

By Gregory Havel

On construction job sites, whether they are new construction or remodeling, some of the most serious hazards present are those resulting from the contractor’s use of defective or poorly-maintained power tools and other equipment and unsafe storage of flammable and combustible liquids and fuels.

Photo 1 shows one of the most common and easily corrected hazards on a construction job site: faulty power tools and extension cords. The cord in the photo had its outer covering torn during use and the insulated conductors pulled from inside it. Someone hastily taped it up and continued to use it despite the hazardous defect. Use of equipment with this defect can provide an electrocution and fire hazard.

(1) Photos by author.


When the cord was damaged, it should have been immediately disconnected, tagged as defective and given to the attention of a qualified person to repair or permanently removed from service and replace. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has mandatory standards in 29 CFR 1926. Subpart K Electrical 29 CFR1926.404 (b)(1)(iii)(C) requires visual inspection of all power cords and cord-connected tools and equipment daily before use so that hazardous defects like this one do not remain in use.

Photo 2 shows another common hazard on construction job sites: improper use of electrical equipment. This type of plug strip with a plastic enclosure is designed for residential and office use. To protect the workers, the extension cords and receptacle devices must be rated for “hard or extra hard use” as per OSHA 29 CFR 1926.405 (a)(2)(ii)(J). This type of receptacle device breaks easily since it is made of lightweight plastic and can leave current-carrying parts exposed, causing an electrocution or fire hazard.



Photo 3 shows a broken wire in the cable that is part of a hoisting device used to tip up wood frame walls after they are completed and sheathed. This cable has been weakened by the broken wire. Even if a single broken wire would not require this cable to be removed from service under OSHA’s standards, it is a defect that could jam in the sheave at the top of the hoist and cause failure of other parts of the device, resulting in the collapse of the wall being raised and the possible injury or fatality of one or more workers on the project. Equipment with this kind of defect should be removed from service until it is repaired [OSHA 29 CFR 1926 Subpart CC: 1926.1400-1442 plus Appendices A-C; specifically 1926.1413 (a)(2)].



Photo 4 shows a tank of liquefied propane (LP) gas surrounded by combustibles and refuse and used to support a pile of scaffold planks. This is an unwise practice even though the LP tank is not presently connected to any heating appliances since these conditions are a fire hazard; impose stress on the tank for which it was not designed and expose it to the possibility of damage by vehicle traffic. (See OSHA’s 29 CFR 1926.153; and NFPA 54 National Fuel Gas Code, 2012 edition.)



These are only a few of the hazards that can develop on a contractor’s job site. These are the kinds of hazards that we remedy with the contractor when we visit construction sites to observe construction methods and the status of the project and its fire protection systems. If the contractor is unwilling to accept our assistance, we can request assistance from the fire prevention bureau or fire inspector, which may eventually result in a citation for the contractor if the hazards are not remedied.

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Gregory Havel is a member of the Town of Burlington (WI) Fire Department; retired deputy chief and training officer; and a 35-year veteran of the fire service. He is a Wisconsin-certified fire instructor II, fire officer II, and fire inspector; an adjunct instructor in fire service programs at Gateway Technical College; and safety director for Scherrer Construction Co., Inc. Havel has a bachelor’s degree from St. Norbert College; has more than 35 years of experience in facilities management and building construction; and has presented classes at FDIC.



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