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How to Properly Inspect a Construction Site for Hazardous Materials

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Be it a new construction project, renovation, or the demolition of an existing building, the task of accounting for hazardous material and waste is extremely important.

If left unchecked, hazardous material/waste will put the health and safety of workers and others at severe risk. To guard against these issues, and their consequences — such as violating local occupational health and safety laws — an inspection is a must.

With a proper inspection, project owners will have the information they need to remove hazards before they proceed to construction.

The inspection process involves multiple steps. In fact, the process itself differs based on the project itself — the issues of an existing building are different from a new project.

 This article will provide information on how to properly inspect existing buildings slated for renovation or demolition as well as new projects.

Common Hazardous Materials at Construction Sites

Renovation & Demolition Sites

Old buildings likely include one or several of the following:

  • Asbestos
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Radon
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

The above are examples of hazardous materials you could find in the building’s structures, but depending on how that building was used, you can also find external hazards too, such as:

  • Batteries
  • Pesticides
  • Lamps
  • Thermostats
  • Paints

New Construction Sites

The advantage of inspecting new building projects is that you can get information on their exact materials. This building information should highlight hazardous substances and provide visibility of how they are being used or stored.

How to Inspect Existing Building Sites

Existing building sites typically include renovation and demolition construction projects. It can also include abatement, such as mold removal services.

Step 1: Inquire about Past Use

Your first step should be to inquire about how the building was used. This will offer clarity on what you need to look for and how to assess the situation.

In terms of hazardous materials, buildings used for chemical production, manufacturing, lab testing, healthcare, military/defense, and waste storage will need exhaustive checks.

Step 2: Examine Conditions

Indoors

Start the inspection by surveying the interior for signs of mold infections, suspicious odors, and other apparent signs of hazardous substances.

Next, conduct a thorough inspection of the structures to find hazardous materials. For example, this could involve removing tiles or partially tearing drywall to find asbestos.

Finally, ask the building/site owner about how the interior was used and whether there are any hazardous materials — such as batteries, chemicals, etc — stored in the facility.

Outdoors

In terms of outdoor areas, you should look at whether the ground is stained, identify and track water treatment equipment, chemical storage tanks, mounted transformers, etc.

In addition to identifying the above equipment, check to see if there are any leaks or fractures — this is to account for potential contamination risks.

You should ask the building/site owner about such equipment, i.e., the location, condition, age, and whether the equipment has undergone integrity or quality assessments.

Useful Inspection Tools

Certain tools will help make the inspection process easier and more thorough.

Besides staple equipment, such as flashlights, consider specialized gear as well. This includes stereoscopic rods with integrated lights and camera, which can let you see within inaccessible areas such as piping or within walls. Likewise with infrared cameras.

In addition, you will need to rely on accredited lab testing in some cases, such as testing the site’s air quality or to determine if there’s asbestos/mold/mercury/lead contamination. You will need equipment for safely collecting and storing samples.

Don’t Compromise on Safety

You must not compromise on safety.

Asbestos, for example, is an easily friable material, which means that it can corrode into a fine powder. In turn, this fine powder is easily inhalable, which puts lung and other organ tissue at high-risk of scarring. If handled incorrectly, your inspection could cause a contamination risk.

 According to the American Cancer Society, the “US Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has estimated that over a million American employees in construction and general industries face significant asbestos exposure on the job.”

There are contamination risks with handling mold, VOCs, lead, and other hazardous materials as well. Thus, you must take steps to ensure the safety of the inspector and others at the site.

Specific steps include giving those involved in the inspection process with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as breathing masks, gloves, protective suits, etc.

You should also take preventative steps such as shutting off the HVAC at the inspection site, so as to prevent harmful particulate matter from contaminating other parts of the building.

How to Inspect New Construction Sites

In comparison to inspecting an existing building, a new site inspection will be more focused on documentation and information than physical checking.

Step 1: Examine the Materials Slated for Use

Be it a raised access floor system, ceilings, walls, or even the finishing, a single building will use dozens, if not hundreds, of different materials.

In terms of hazardous materials, you will need to look out for polyvinyl chloride (a strong and lightweight plastic used for producing piping), wood treatments, and fiberglass.

You should also speak to the project owner to understand how the building will be used, and in turn, see if the documentation shows where and how chemicals and other harmful materials will be stored. If the project had gone through regulatory approval, that documentation should exist.

Step 2: How to Find Information on New Construction Sites

There’s a lot of documentation involved in a new building project, so finding the information you need could take hours, if not days. You can cut that time down by requesting the project owner’s or construction contractor’s building information modeling (BIM) data.

With BIM, you can find information about the materials involved as well as how and where they are being used. Not only is this information useful for you, but also future inspectors when they must assess the building ahead of a renovation or abatement job.

Next Stepssafety

You should have a general overview of what a hazardous materials inspection will require, but there are additional specifics. We did not include them in this article because these details will vary based on where the project is located and local regulations. However, with those, you will be in a good position to conduct a thorough assessment.

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