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Surviving a Construction or Renovation Project

When labs are expanded or renovated, plans for the protection of staff working in and around the construction site are often overlooked.

Vince McLeod, CIH

Vince McLeod is an American Board of Industrial Hygiene-certified industrial hygienist and the senior industrial hygienist with Ascend Environmental + Health Hygiene LLC in Winter Garden, Florida. He has more...

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Protecting personnel and property during major construction

Perhaps the administration has told you that a new lab was approved. Or maybe they agreed you need to expand your overcrowded, cramped facility into that vacant space next door. In your initial excitement, the focus of the construction or renovation process is on the end product. Is the design what you need? Will it work for you? Will it be on time and within budget? Will the quality of construction meet your expectations? These are all critical considerations in any construction project. However, there is one aspect of the design and execution of a construction project that we (as “safety guys”) find often gets overlooked. This is protecting building occupants and people in public areas adjacent to the construction activities. One point of clarification— when we refer to the “public,” we mean anyone not directly associated with the construction process, whether personnel in your facility, the general public, or visitors on your site.1

Construction is a very disruptive process, especially if it is not well managed. Safety problems might include falling or windborne debris; generation of dusts/fumes/ odors; blocked exits; fires caused by welding, soldering, or roofing; tripping hazards or uneven surfaces; changes to paths of travel within a facility; noise; vibration; lighting (or lack of it); ultraviolet radiation (e.g., from welding); construction equipment and vehicles; utility interruptions; building access issues (pedestrian, ADA, vehicle, and loading dock); and security. Many aspects of a construction project may also spread potential contaminants that could impact indoor air quality as well as crucial laboratory operations such as experiments or analyses being performed.

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Related Article: Is This Building Making Me Sick?

There are standards to protect the public from specific hazards, most notably asbestos and lead, but traditionally there were no real comprehensive safety standards or guidelines that apply to overall protection of the general public. That changed with the approval of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A10.34- 2001 standard “Protection of the Public on or Adjacent to Construction Sites—American National Standard for Construction and Demolition Operation.”2 This is not a law or regulation as are the asbestos and lead standards, but it is a nationally recognized consensus document that can be included in the contract specifications and thus enforced by the project manager.

Since ANSI A10.34 is the leading guidance on protecting people during construction, let’s walk through it and explore a few of the fundamental points. The standard first provides basic definitions. A hazard is defined as a condition that can cause illness, injury, or damage to property. (The property damage is unique, as most safety standards address only personnel protection.) A hazard would also be a condition that could negatively impact the quality and legal defensibility of the work conducted. The project constructor is the person or entity named in the project documents as being responsible for the oversight and control of the work on the project. This is the go-to person/group if there are problems, and a relationship should be established before “shovel meets dirt.” The enforcing authority is the person or entity with the authority to enforce safety on the site. This may be the project constructor, the owner’s project manager, the controlling contractor, or a government entity. The most important part of the process after obtaining commitment from the parties above is the development of the Public Hazard Control Plan.

The Public Hazard Control Plan is the meat of the standard. The purpose is to evaluate and reduce to a minimum all potential hazards to the public. These are identified through analyses of the project prior to beginning work as well as throughout the process. Effective and open communication and discussion must occur before the work starts. This is particularly important, as most contractors will be unfamiliar with the requirements associated with working in laboratory facilities, especially if the laboratory will continue to operate during the project. A phased approach to safety program elements will often need to be implemented. Start with groundbreaking and then move through all the phases of the project when identifying hazards and contamination issues and considering solutions. It is critical for the facility manager to participate in this process, as some of the proposed solutions by the contractor may be incompatible with the ability to properly run a laboratory.

Hazards to consider

Noise—Noise may impair the ability to conduct normal operations and discussion. Impact noise may startle and cause secondary hazards. Noise, if loud enough, may interfere with the ability to hear audible warnings such as fire alarms.

Dusts, fumes, mists, smoke, and vapors—Though these seldom reach hazardous levels for building occupants, they often result in a rash of complaints and lost work time from headaches/ general malaise, and may cause building evacuations if smoke detectors are activated. Ventilation throughout the life of the project is an important consideration.

Pedestrian hazards—Safe walking surfaces and routes must be provided. This includes maintenance of required emergency egress and evacuation routes for all. Ensure ADA issues are addressed. Where sidewalk closures occur, provide safe alternate paths. Where carts must move, maintain a smooth and adequate surface.

Utilities—When interruptions of utilities (electricity, steam, chilled water, etc.) are required, plan the outage in advance to identify what accommodations are required for freezers, fume hoods, and refrigerators.

Other areas that need to be discussed include lighting, radiation, machinery and vehicles, falling objects, security, pollution control, hazardous materials, vibrations and subsidence, actions for injuries and damage, and an emergency action plan. The ANSI standard has a non-mandatory appendix that essentially serves as a hazard protection plan template to help meet the requirements of the standard. In order for it to be effective, you must communicate the Hazard Control Plan to all the contractors and subcontractors working on the site.

It is important to note that safety runs both ways. If there are hidden hazards for the contractor, these must be revealed prior to obtaining bids or preferably abated before the contractor commences operations. These hazards might include contamination issues. For instance, if radioactive materials were used, potentially contaminated surfaces must be confirmed “clean” and documented. Any areas where human tissues and samples were examined that will be impacted need to be decontaminated. HEPA filters may need to be removed from exhaust systems and biosafety cabinets decontaminated prior to contractor work on these systems. We strongly recommend a formal clearance process where every non-routine (from the contractor’s perspective) hazard is addressed and abated before turning the space over to a general construction contractor. This can help alleviate the concerns of the actual construction workers, who may have fears of being exposed to something “bad.”

This ANSI standard provides a good foundation for analysis of construction projects from a safety perspective. Although it is focused on the protection of people, it does provide a logical path for the protection of laboratory operations as well. It relies on the identification of hazards as well as the development of strategies and assignment of responsibility to address those hazards. Development of a plan along with detailed, open discussion can make life easier and less stressful for all involved.


1. Saving Lives Through A10.34, Barry Cole, Blueprints, American Society of Safety Engineers. Park Ridge, IL. 2009. 

2. Protection of the Public on or Adjacent to Construction Sites, American National Standards Institute/American Society of Safety Engineers. Park Ridge, IL. 2012