School Construction

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Large-Scale Construction Projects K-12

school_constructionAn effective school construction safety program supports the mutual goals of all members of the school community. It is not just about protecting students and the general public, but also about protecting the safety and health of construction workers and staff. Schools have a unique relationship with those who build them. The work environment is one where workers often are from the community; they are fathers, mothers, uncles or brothers of the school’s students and faculty. All project stakeholders must be aware that an injury to any worker on a school site affects the community deeply.

Typically, the greatest challenge on a large, active K-12 school construction site is the development and implementation of a strategy to separate construction from public and educational activities. Schools present a unique challenge in that users are primarily children or young adults who do not immediately recognize and comprehend danger, are curious of construction sites and equipment, are highly distracted by surroundings, and can be disrupted by changing activities, noises and smells.

When working on large-scale construction projects where construction operations are executed close to building occupants or adjacent neighbors or businesses, the greatest hazards are from indoor air quality, hazardous materials, particularly from exposure to existing building materials or previously contaminated sites, fire, security breaches and potential interruptions to existing activities or operations.

Indoor Air Quality

Construction activities generate dust and fumes that can affect the health of students, staff and visitors. Proactive control measures must be put into place to limit and control the spread of dust, fumes and poor air quality to occupied spaces or across a neighborhood.

HazMat Management

Most school buildings that have been in service for 30 years or more may have some quantity of asbestos or other hazardous materials. Perfectly safe methods to abate any building are available; however, implementing the appropriate measures requires proper identification of the materials, development of abatement plans and application of all safety requirements.

Proper removal of hazardous waste requires diligent planning, investigations and implementation of the program created for the project by a specialty hazardous waste consultant. Even when proper abatement procedures are used, one must be aware of the perceptions the public and staff have about the abatement process. Effective sharing of safety information is critical to bring understanding to the community.

Fire

All construction projects have hazards that can easily spark fires. Controlling the danger of fire emergencies in a large public building with children, as well as maintaining safe and efficient evacuation, make working in K-12 schools more of a safety challenge. Construction safety plans must include control of welding and cutting (hot work), regular housekeeping, flammable liquid controls and egress routes, fire alarm systems, notification systems and fire response procedures. Additionally, the plan must include provisions for the regular maintenance and management of fire control equipment, policies and egress routes.

Security Breaches

Site security must be considered from multiple points of view. Policies suitable and unique to the individual school combined with appropriate barriers to prohibit unauthorized access or egress between the construction zone and the school are required. The barriers must provide for the physical safety of those on either side. The barriers also may assist in the prevention of theft and vandalism of equipment, tools and materials from areas in the facility both occupied and currently under construction.

The location, emergency accessibility, type and service duration of each barrier system must be reviewed by the school administration and any applicable authority that has jurisdiction (i.e., fire marshals) both before the commencement of construction activities or prior to any modifications after initial installation. Barrier systems and pathways around the construction site must be maintained in all weather to ensure that no curious visitors gain inadvertent access to the project site.

Unobstructed and safe access for vehicles, including buses and the vehicles of students, parents, visitors and faculty, as well as building entrances and pedestrian paths around the school and construction site, present challenges, requiring coordination and communication with school officials, maintenance of roads and clear, well- placed signage.

Disruptions to School Operations

Construction projects may require that specialized portions of the facility be cut off from educational use. Careful planning and discussion is required to ensure that unique educational opportunities and extracurricular activities aremaintainedtotheadministration’s satisfaction.Schoolprojectsmustbe plannedthroughopen,promptand honestcommunicationfacilitated throughadministrators,teachers, coaches andparentstoestablishexpectationsandminimizefrustrations.

Unauthorized or unsupervised visitor access to the jobsite can have serious safety and progress implications. When site separation is not effective or maintained, opportunities for disruption, worker injury, vandalism or harm are created.

Deliveries of food and supplies, and removal of dumpsters are daily occurrences at all school facilities. Access to loading docks, kitchens and storage areas cannot be inhibited by construction.

Operations that will create noise must be planned and coordinated with administration prior to the start of work. Hammer drilling or jackhammering, the use of low-velocity, powder-actuated tools, installation of mechanical anchors for roofing, power saws and tools, vibration or compaction equipment, general demolition, heavy equipment engines, drywall installation and even workers’ lunch and break times can create noise.

Design and Planning

The greatest positive impact we can have on large-scale construction projects is in the design and planning phase. Historically, OHS professionals have not been engaged to contribute and influence safety not only until a design is completed and the owner’s phasing plan has been developed. OHS professionals can be of significant value in improving safety of construction workers, but also for adjacent operations and facilities operations by working with designers and owners, using tools such as building information modeling (BIM), and by reviewing designs and conducting hazard analyses of planned building activities, construction phasing, proximity to adjacent operations, location of equipment needing frequent maintenance and service, and selection of construction materials.

Be Effective

A plan that simply says “shall comply with OSHA” is inadequate. An effective school construction safety program supports the mutual goals of all members of the school community. Safety at the school construction site is not just about protecting students and the general public, but also about protecting the safety and health of construction workers and staff. Schools have a unique relationship with those who build them. The work environment is one where workers often are from the community; they are fathers, mothers, uncles or brothers of the school’s students and faculty. All project stakeholders must be aware that an injury to any worker on a school site affects the community deeply. Schools should be a safe environment at all times for faculty, staff, students and the community, even while construction is taking place.

Tony O’Dea, CSP, is vice president and director of corporate safety for Gilbane Building Co., where he directs the company’s construction safety program. He has worked in the construction industry for more than 25 years in various positions, including project engineer, surveyor, superintendent and project manager. He also is a construction safety and health technician and holds an engineer-in-training certification. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Northeastern University, where he developed and taught the fundamentals of construction safety and health course for 10 years. He has been a guest lecturer in construction safety at the University of Florida, Roger Williams University and Harvard University, as well as for ASSE, Associated General Contractors of Rhode Island, and Associated Builders and Contractors of Rhode Island.

 
 

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