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Demolition dangers highlighted by New Jersey wall collapse

It takes longer to build something than destroy it. Demolition work seems easier and safer than construction, from an outside observer's point of view, but demolishing a Bergen County structure takes more than jolting jackhammers and wrecking balls. Pre-planning is critical to demolition projects.

Workplace accidents can happen quickly during poorly planned demolitions. Last month, a New Jersey worker died near the completion of a project, when the wall of a Blockbuster Video store fell on top of the man. Last summer, half a dozen people were killed during a building demolition in a neighboring state.

The dangers are real and preventable. Federal regulators at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently updated information about demolition worker safety on the agency's website. Planning negligence is a primary reason demolition workers are hurt or killed.

OSHA handed out almost 1,000 safety violation citations to demolition companies between 2009 and 2013. The biggest offense was the lack of engineering surveys, which provide critical information about structures to be demolished. Hazards lurk everywhere.

Planning a demolition requires knowing how a structure is designed and whether design changes occurred during or after the original construction. The stability of a structure must be assessed to prevent wall collapses and other demolition accidents. Workers also can become dangerously ill through exposure to hidden toxic chemicals and undetected silica, lead or asbestos.

Injuries often occur when demolition workers fall from scaffolding or are struck by falling or collapsing objects. Injuries create workers' compensation claims and a loss of productivity for the employer. Workers risk pain, suffering, long recoveries and sometimes permanent disability or death.

Injured workers also suffer wage losses and possibly the inability to return to work or the same type of work. A combination of medical expenses and lost income can devastate family finances. Attorneys help accident victims by pursuing sources of compensation through insurers or legal claims.

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, "OSHA Offers New Demolition Safety Resources" Jul. 11, 2014

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