Bakersfield Implosion: The hazards of demolition—the not entirely predictable nature of a crumbling building, and the possibility of human error with grave consequences—were highlighted in Saturday’s demolition accident in Bakersfield, Calif.
A man lost his leg and four others were injured by shrapnel as they viewed the demolition of a power plant. It is not clear as of yet what went wrong.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes the great, and to a certain extent inevitable, hazards associated with demolition work. In 2011, 17.6 percent of all worker fatalities in the United States were construction-related.
OSHA states: “Demolition work involves many of the hazards associated with construction. However, demolition incurs additional hazards due to unknown factors such as: deviations from the structure’s design introduced during construction, approved or unapproved modifications that altered the original design, materials hidden within structural members, and unknown strengths or weaknesses of construction materials.”
During a demolition in Philadelphia in June, a building collapsed into a neighboring Salvation Army thrift store, killing two employees and four customers and injuring 13 others. Attorneys of four people suing the demolition company inspected the site after the accident.
One of the attorneys, Robert Mongeluzzi, noted the contractor was getting only $10,000 for the demolition job, making him question whether a proper engineering survey was done. He also questioned whether the building included steel supports or not. Without steel supports, demolition by hand would be the method of choice, rather than heavy equipment, said Mongeluzzi.
“Of course, a demolition from the top down by hand would have been much more time-consuming and expensive but was really the only way to get this done safely,” he said.
In Lipetsk, Russia, on June 16, 29-year-old Evgeny Titov was killed while watching a demolition on his lunch break. He was allegedly not told by workers to stand at a safe distance, according to Russian publication Pravda. A video uploaded to YouTube and other websites is said to have come from his cellphone as he filmed the demolition. It shows the debris flying toward him, his phone drops, and people rush over to help him. It has been removed by YouTube, deemed “shocking and disgusting content,” according to the YouTube removal notice.
A demolition accident in 2012 at the Bakersfield site where Saturday’s accident occurred killed a 51-year-old demolition worker. He was cutting beams with a torch when a beam hit him and knocked him from the height of about 50 feet where he was suspended in a basket at the time.
A demolition gone wrong in Cankiri, Turkey, in 2009 nearly had disastrous effects, but luckily did not cause any injuries. The building was expected to crumble as it hit the ground, but instead, rolled onto its roof and nearly rolled right into a neighboring residential building. (See video below)
A Rappaport Glass Levine & Zullo LLP law firm article titled “Long Island Excavation Accident Injury Attorneys,” notes the similar hazards in excavation work and in demolition work. It lists additional hazards involved in demolitions: not only is there a danger of injury by debris, but also by exposure to chemical toxins, fire or explosion due to contact with flammable materials, burns from contact with natural gas lines, and electric shock.
OSHA says preparation is the best prevention: “To counter these unknowns, all personnel involved in a demolition project must be fully aware of these types of hazards and the safety precautions to take to control the hazards.”
Building Unexpectedly Rolls in Demolition in Cankiri, Turkey, 2009
The Associated Press contributed to this report.