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Tips to assist in safe metal building construction

Thomas Phoenix Nov18
Photo courtesy of Thomas Phoenix International

Building a metal building is always a dangerous and sometimes even a life-threatening activity. It involves using industrial machinery, heavy and/or difficult-to-handle beams and other structural components, and sometimes working at great heights. The combination of these factors means safety should be a requisite priority.

When it comes to safety concerns, metal buildings are unique in terms of stabilization and diaphragm. “We’ve seen a lot of contractors who want to make an impression and get the big iron in the air to prove they are getting things done,” says Jeff Wilson, manager of the steel division, Crossland Construction Co.Inc., Columbus, Kan. “But, the devil is in the details. The small iron has to be installed first to be 100 percent safe. I know several erectors that lost the entire building because they didn’t take the time to install the small stuff.”

What else is unique about metal buildings and safety? Metal buildings are relatively lightweight structures with long spans that tend to deflect and require substantial thought to lift and temporarily bracing. Also, “Most other trades work in a more-or-less static environment with predictable hazards,” says Joseph Allen, project manager, safety and training manager,Thomas Phoenix International Inc. (TPI), Eastampton, N.J. “Pre-engineered erectors create a building from the ground up, so the work area and elevation is constantly changing. We use an incredibly diverse number of tools and heavy equipment to perform our work.”

What follows are safety tips for safe metal building construction.

Preplanning

Preplanning for safety and safety equipment should start even before crews get to the job site. “Crossland preplans every job, not only for manpower, equipment and schedules, but for safety,” Wilson says. “We ask ourselves, ‘Is there anything specific that is out of the ordinary? Where are the safety concerns?’ Once we arrive on-site, we hold daily pre-task meetings before work begins for the day. We remind everyone in attendance that first on the agenda will be the checking of safety equipment and personal protective equipment. That inspection is critical.”

Walbridge, Ohio-based Rudolph Libbe Inc. holds a pre-installation meeting with erectors before they mobilize on-site. This meeting ensures that everyone is in agreement on how to safely erect the building. Attendees include the project team, a representative from safety and field operations, and the erector’s project manager and on-site supervisor. Discussion covers a review of the erection and bracing plan with base plate and column anchorage details, specifications and safety requirements, including fall protection.

Photo courtesy of Rudolph Libbe Inc.

Photo courtesy of Lemartec Corp.

“We hold crane meetings to ensure the crane is properly sized and has the required inspections,” says Mark Hoffman, health and safety director at Rudolph Libbe. “Discussion covers setup, ground conditions, underground and overhead hazards such as power lines, and identification of qualified signalpersons, riggers and certified operators. Pre-task planning sessions are held twice a day at the crew level to discuss the day’s work, tools and equipment needs, other crews working nearby, and potential hazards and actions required to eliminate or mitigate hazards before work begins. When conditions change—due to location, task (siding versus roofing versus erection), equipment or weather—crews meet again to update the pretask plan before continuing work.”

Temporary Bracing

During erection, metal buildings can be vulnerable to collapse unless precautions are taken. “This is because the structure depends on every single piece to meet the load requirements,” says Yacel Delgado, corporate safety manager, Lemartec Corp., a MasTec company, Miami. “It doesn’t matter what size the building is, temporary bracing is crucial. The building will never be fully supported until walls, roof panels and permanent bracing are already on. Temporary bracing is required to keep the structure in place, also to support plumb and square the building. Temporary bracing inspection is part of our safety walkthroughs and audits.”

George Goddard, president of Span Construction & Engineering Inc., Madera, Calif., believes adequate temporary bracing during the erection process cannot be overemphasized. “Most failures are a result of an inadequate bracing and erection plan,” he adds. “We engineer a temporary erection bracing plan on all projects to prevent collapse during the construction process.”

When Kansas City, Mo.-based BlueScope Construction, a division of BlueScope Buildings North America, is awarded a project, it has a procedure that is followed and signed off on by upper management and engineers that involves submitting a temporary bracing plan for approval. The bracing plan is utilized to keep the building standing as it is being erected. “The plan is submitted to the engineers, which in turn checks all the loads that will be transferred into the building during erection,” says Scott Inman, senior superintendent of erection services for BlueScope Construction. “Once the engineer signs off on the temporary brace plan, you must follow the plan exactly. If you need to make any adjustments, you must get approval from the engineer. A lot of people don’t understand that the building has more chance of caving in during erection than when it is sheeted. Brace plans are a key component in keeping your building standing until the permanent bracing is installed.”

Photo courtesy of Crossland Construction Co.

Fall Protection

Fall protection is obviously one of the biggest safety concerns for metal buildings. Gary T. Smith, president of TPI, believes, “Fall protection is the most often-cited violation and the deadliest.” He also stresses that everyone who works in a controlled decking zone (CDZ) needs to be specifically trained for it. “Leading-edge fall protection or insulation support doesn’t get rid of the training requirements or height restrictions for a CDZ,” he adds. “Just throwing up a warning line 6 feet from the edge doesn’t cut it, either, but too many erectors think that it’s all they need to do.”

Allen contends that frequent inspection of fall protection gear and rigging can save lives. “Complacency is a killer,” he adds. Also, “Construction fall protection requirements for Subpart R (steel erection) are different than the standards in Subpart M (general). Knowing which standard applies can be tricky, and the training requirements are different. The Metal Building Institute has some good training resources that can help explain the difference. Make sure you fully document and explain the fall protection systems and equipment your crew is allowed to use on each project, and make sure they’re appropriately trained.”

At Jacksonville, Fla.-based Harrell Construction Co. Inc., vice president Jason Harrell believes that correct fall protection involves not only making sure it is used each and every time, but understanding how to properly use the harnesses, lanyards and the multiple types of fall arrest devices. “Understand why [under] certain conditions the use of one type of system is better than another,” he says. “[Also] spend the money on good equipment. You don’t have to buy the most expensive, newest device available, but if you are going to have eight to 10 or more men in the air for your small company, buy the best harnesses, lanyards, stanchions and retractables you can afford. Good, solid newer equipment is lighter and more comfortable than ever, and this will translate into more productivity.”

Photo courtesy of Span Construction & Engineering Inc.

At BlueScope Construction, several measures are taken to prevent personnel, tools and materials from falling to a lower elevation. All employees are supplied with a full body harness and fall arrest lanyards. All hand tools being utilized at elevations have tool lanyards on them. The areas that have overhead hazards are barricaded at ground level to keep people out of harm’s way. “Our company’s global safety requirements have a ‘6-foot rule,’ if your feet are 6 feet above the working surface, you must be 100 percent tied off, even in equipment that doesn’t require tie off,” Inman says. “We work with a fall protection specialist that visits the site and trains our employees on the new fall protection codes, and how to properly utilize the equipment issued to them.”

Harrell stresses that purlins and girts are prohibited from being used as an anchorage point for a fall arrest system, unless written approval is obtained from a qualified person [29 CFR 1926.758(g)]. He also notes that purlins and girts are prohibited from being used as a walking/ working surface when installing safety systems, until [29 CFR 1926.758(h)] all permanent bridging is installed and all protection is provided.

To minimize falls caused by wind gusts on Rudolph Libbe projects, erectors are required to have access to an anemometer to determine real-time wind speeds. “We never rely on news reports, smartphones or the airport for accurate weather data,” Hoffman says. “A site’s exact location, time of year, topography and even weather history are important considerations. The current stage of a project also can influence the effect of wind. Incomplete buildings may experience higher wind loads and require additional bracing.”

Photo courtesy of Span Construction & Engineering Inc.