SAFETY HAZARDS GUIDE - home - CONTENTS: List of home & building safety hazards and safety procedures for building inspectors, builders, and disaster teams, Course Outline - Building Safety & Environmental Hazards & Accident Prevention
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Building safety hazards course curriculum:
Here we list major building & indoor environmental safety hazards, and we discuss how to detect and protect from safety & environmental hazards in homes and other buildings.
We include links to detailed safety articles on important building hazards facing home owners, property owners, tenants, office workers, and repair contractors as well as for building and home inspectors, contractors, and for building owners who need to inspect or test the condition of their building.
Home & Building Safety Inspection Guide, & Safety for Building Inspectors & Homeowners
- Daniel Friedman 03/26/2008 - Connecticut Association of Home Inspectors InspectAPedia.com Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, Repair, & Problem Prevention Advice
Abstract - this brief paper is a summary of HOME INSPECTION SAFETY HAZARDS a detailed document providing safety advice for home inspectors. See the complete list of building & environmental safety hazards listed at the left of this page. Home Inspection Safety Course - Accident prevention for home inspectors: the purpose of this class and the accompanying web article at /home_inspection/Building_Inspector_Safety_Risks.php is to reduce the chance of serious injury or death for home inspectors, other building inspectors, and building occupants.
The range of hazards faced by home inspectors in the course of examining buildings is considerable. It includes obvious catastrophes such as falling off of a roof or electrocution, and less obvious or less likely events such as structural collapse,
exposure to bacterial hazards, fungal hazards, or even physical attack by violent building
occupants, biting dogs, sneaky snakes, and pecking parrots.
Home inspectors and other professional building diagnosticians are expected to be observant and attentive to detail. Despite these skills, accidents happen to inspectors.
A Canadian home inspector fell to his death during a roofing inspection. He was ascending a high ladder which he suspected was unsafe.
Following a home inspection in New Paltz, NY, Ballinger, a real estate agent who was angry with the results
of the inspection, attacked and attempted to kill Steve Vermilye by driving his car off of the pavement, across
a sidewalk, crashing into a building wall where Vermilye was walking. Another home inspector was badly injured when an attic fold-down stair fell out of its opening as the inspector was climbing it.
Hazards that an inspector should recognize affect other people too. An aggressive tenant threatened two elderly inspection clients with a rifle and then showered them with stones. An electrical inspector was killed by an electrical arc explosion while removing the cover of an electrical panel. A plumber was killed while leaning over a water pressure tank that, lacking a pressure relief valve, exploded.
We will list some of the more egregious and more interesting of these dangerous building hazards, review accident
case histories, and we will illustrate procedures of attention, observation, and hazard recognition that can reduce the chances of accidents during building inspections.
A Brief Account of Accident Theory for Home & other Building Inspectors
People are not rational about safety
We are more afraid of improbable hazards beyond our control (EMF) than we are of probable hazards over which we have control (smoking cigarettes).
We do not perceive risk accurately
Some accidents are more or less likely to occur
than we believe. Some accidents are likely to result in greater or lesser degree
of injury than we believe. Having a more accurate picture of where hazardous risks lie
can help us learn to properly attend accident risks and thus to avoid accidents.
Total Risk = (Probability of Occurrence) x (Cost of Occurrence)
The attention we pay to various risks needs to be adjusted continuously as we move through a building from area to area (basement to roof) and topic to topic (plumbing to electrical).
Tune risk recognition to area and system: The home inspector's recognition of risks needs to attend the hazards peculiar to each building area and system.
Educate to improve hazard recognition and to teach safe inspection procedures: The level of inspector technical education affects the inspector's ability to recognize hazards and to reduce accidents.
A Survey of Building Hazards and Accidents By Type of Activity
List of Building & Mechanical System Related Safety Topics: Readers should see our list of major building & indoor environmental safety hazards, inspection methods, & remedies listed at the left of these pages. Readers should also see our list of building inspector safety articles
The accident rate of injury by slipping, tripping, or falling is among the highest
facing home inspectors and home owners.
Falls: The highest risk of injury by falls occurs among the elderly but falls are a particular hazard for home inspectors because of the need to access attics, roofs, and also simply because of the distractions while inspecting any building site. "Falls represent the most frequent non-transportation related accidents occurring among older adults and are the leading cause
of home fatalities for this population.
Roof Access Safety Hazards
Canadian home inspector fatality, inspector ascending exterior ladder secured to building knew the ladder was
unsafe, told his wife he was afraid of it but felt he had to ascend to inspect the roof during a
multi-day inspection of a large building. The ladder came away from the building and the inspector
fell to his death. (Ca. 1998)
(see ROOF INSPECTION SAFETY & LIMITS for more details on this topic).
Hazards to Avoid When Inspecting Roofs
Ladder placement and use hazards (discussed in detail below)
Slipping or falling off a steep roof (it's easier to get on than to get off,
valleys are easier to walk than an open steep roof slope)
Slipping or falling off of a slippery roof (wet, wood, slate, loose debris, loose mineral granules, moss, lichens, and pine needles are especially dangerous)
Knocking debris onto a client or bystander below (slates, branches, chimney
parts, and also, people holding
your ladder should look down, not up, as you descend to avoid roof
debris in the eye)
Falling through a rotted or damaged roof surface, perhaps hidden by a sloppy"roof over" job
Falling off due to mis-attention, distractions, bees
Stair, Rail, & Ladder Safety Hazards & Accidents Described and Avoided
The author has consulted in depth concerning fall injuries and has performed case studies investigating stair and rail accident and injury lawsuits. The full paper and the class materials reviewed several falling lawsuits for which the author was consulted.
Home inspectors are qualified to observe, photo document, and report on physical conditions at a building, such as stairs which are defective for any of a variety of reasons.
How to Avoid Stair, & Railing & Ladder Accidents
Note bad steps and rails to yourself and report orally and in writing to your clients
Ladder angle (OSHA: the horizontal distance from the top
support to the foot of the ladder should be approximately one-quarter
of the working length of the ladder)
Ladder feet improperly placed on sloped, uneven, wet, icy, snowy, un-seen, or other slippery surface
Distractions - Bats in the Attic? and other distractions during climbing ladders: people, (client directly overhead while climbing ladder into attic - let's be first honest, second careful, third professional), bees and wasps, birds, bats, pets (more later on biting dogs)
Improper steps and rails by dimension or angle or gap (child hazards)
Circular stairs treads: small triangular angled walking area, widely-spaced balusters (fall-through or head traps)
Unsafe attic stairs
Inadequate securing of stair frame to the framed opening
Loose or missing hinge bolt hardware
loose, bent spring arms (spring can slip and strike stair climber in the face)
folding ladder too long (angled position brakes stair stringer) or too short (hanging stairs)
damaged or loose treads
older sliding ladder versions may fall out completely (DF broken leg)
Details and an extensive catalog of causes of trips and falls on all types of stairs can be found
at STAIR FALL & TRIP HAZARDS.
Unanticipated sources of falls during home inspections
Exterior wooden deck stairs with improperly installed treads, side nailed, no cleats, wooden treads fall, protruding
nails rake the inspector's ankle
Dogs (including culturally-based fear among some Asians who fear them); biting hazards but also fear and falling hazards
Hidden defects - missing support, rot (realtor stomped-on and fell through deck while demonstrating its structural integrity)
Hidden structural details: walking on attic floor joists (ceiling joists) with insulation in place, stepping on insulation risks failure to notice that joists change direction = fall through (DF fell into Fox Hill Condos bathroom, occupied)
Pitched, slippery treads
Insecure rails (no hazard until you're falling and need to grab the rail)
Angry bystanders push (realtor pushed clients father down stairs)
Bees and wasps, bats, etc. - carry an epi-pen?
Other Attic Hazards For Building Inspectors
Cuts: cutting your head on protruding roof nails
Falls: stepping or falling through ceilings.
Fans, cuts, dust: attic fan hazards
Pathogens & Dust: breathing fiberglass dust,
Shocks: electrical hazards
Other Basement or Crawl Space Hazards
Rodents, bites, urine, feces, hantavirus
Pathogens from sewage spills or backups
from electrical hazards
Stuck, Cut, Bitten
Working alone, stuck or injured
Electrical Safety for Inspectors
Here we give some tips on how to inspect the electrical panel, including the risks of relying
on test instruments (resistance drops do not equal bad connections).
Case Histories of Electrical Accidents During Inspections
Electrician in Atlanta killed while removing electrical panel cover explosion
Homeowner denies unsafe wiring, gets shocked;
Realtor instructs tenant to cut and remove harmless zip-cord wiring-fuses blow, curls tenant's hair.
Rat's nest wiring comment frightens high-heeled client, runs through dark basement, fall
Sheet metal screws in the panel door may pierce live wires during electrical panel cover replacement. (See our photograph above).
Mis-wiring or loose connections may short when moved
Overheating, burn ups, loose wires, other commonly-identified reporting defects
FPE, Zinsco, Aluminum Wiring - breakers fall out;
Bakelite fuse holders can disintegrate when pulled from an old panel;
Cartridge fuses can twist or disconnect during removal of fuse pull-out
Breakers may not reset when turned off manually
Turning off breakers accidentally during panel cover removal can cause in-building catastrophes such as computer data loss or injury if medical equipment (a home dialysis machine) is in operation. [These warnings are based on actual incident reports -DF]
Do not rely on "touch" to test for live wiring or shorted electrical panel boxes
Do not touch, grab, shake, disturb live wires unless specifically trained & equipped to do so [B. Smith, Small Homes Council, erroneously advised home inspectors to test the connection security of SEC connections in the panel by grabbing and shaking them - DO NOT DO THIS-DF]
One hand behind back during panel inspection
Block clients from touching live electrical components during panel inspection by positioning your body correctly
References for Electrical Inspection Safety Procedures for Home Inspectors
Burning Odors: see ODOR DIAGNOSIS CHECKLIST, PROCEDURE Watch out:
If you smell "burning plastic" or or smoke similar odors indoors or even outside of a building, a dangerous electrical failure could be present and there is risk of a building fire.
At NEST CAM INSTALLATION & USE we describe installing and using Nest dams or drop cams for both home security monitoring and for remote monitoring of a building for leaks, loss of heat, water or ice damage, or for intrusion or security issues.
We have been testing the performance, reliability, and convenience of the Nest learning thermostat in our lab building since early in 2015 and have found the thermostat reliable, easy to control remotely by smartphone or computer, and an added source of peace of mind when a building is in a freezing climate.
See NEST LEARNING THERMOSTATS
Septic Tanks, Drywells, Cesspools and their Risks to Home Owners, Occupants, & Inspectors
Inspection Hazards at Septic Systems, Drywells, Cesspools
Collapsing covers over tanks, cesspools, drywells, especially wood, steel, or home-made
Collapsing site-built septic tanks, cesspools, drywells.
Bacterial (sewage) and fungal (mold) hazards for home inspectors may be present if there has been sewage backup.
Collapse Accidents and Hazards of Special Risk to Home Inspectors & Home Owners
Masonry structures such as this carriage house in Saugerties, NY, can be very unstable and risk sudden even imminent sudden collapse, depending on just how it is damaged. Broken bond courses in brick are a particular concern
Wood framing and sheathing, especially unsafe roof framing or rotted sheathing
Collapse Hazards for Improperly-Constructed Decks & Stairs
The author inspected this deck and warned of its probable collapse, indicated that it was dangerous, informed the client to "stay off of the deck" until it was repaired.
The author re-inspected the collapsed deck to photograph construction details that led to the structural failure of this component. Litigation was broached.
Interior collapse hazards:
Watch out: See PLASTER, LOOSE FALL HAZARDS for examples of bulged plaster that may be danger signs, including an example of a collapse of an expanded wire lath ceiling that had been improperly installed.
Watch out: often the framing supporting plaster ceilings in homes built before 1900 was sized to be just strong enough to support the weight of the plaster itself. Such ceiling structures were not intended to support the weight of a curious home owner or home inspector.
Building Indoor Air Quality and Pathogenic Hazards for Home Inspectors
Visible mold hazards
Problematic and larger mold reservoirs may be present; risk varies
by extent, history, location of leaks, building materials used, mechanical disturbance of moldy materials, other factors.
How to recognize problem molds and cosmetic molds by
visual inspection - is it possible? Learn to recognize obviously cosmetic-only mold infections such as BlueStain.
What level of mold exposure is likely to
be a risk to home inspectors? More than 30 sq .ft. of highly-airborne-type mold or even small areas of toxic mold if touched to an open cut or an eye.
How to Respond to Hostility, Weapons, Threats, Biting Dogs, Flitting Bats, Scratching Cats at Building Inspections
Dealing with violent or threatening building occupants, dogs, spiders,
snakes, rats, other pests; weapons, threats, realtors. When and how to leave a threatening environment. How to get the inspection
Case histories of Violence at Home Inspections
Note: For reasons that will be apparent, I do not have photographs of these encounters.
Tenant Threatens Buyer: Tenant informs inspector he is going to beat up and then kill whomever is buying the house (seller is making tenant move out); inspector identifies client as friend/assistant; expressed sympathy, was able to complete the inspection; recapped off premises.
Tenant Attacks Clients: attacked by hostile tenant, brandishes rifle, uses car to throw gravel; left inspection, informed parties, tenant
removed from premises before re inspection;
Realtor Attacks Client: Client attacked by realtor, (realtor tried to push client's father down stairs in Westchester)
Realtor Attacks Home Inspector with Car: Bollinger vs. Vermilye, New Paltz NY
Home Owner Threatens Dog: Home owner threatens inspector (and inspector's dog) with pistol.
Steps to Avoid Trouble From Building Occupants
Assess the level of risk, monitor and change the assessment as needed
Maintain professionalism, calmness, do not respond to hostility. As a professional guiding clients through a building:
Protecting the client is your first responsibility
Protecting yourself is your second responsibility
Bad Animals: Dealing With Biting, Nipping, Inspector-Chewing Dogs
Ask that dogs be off premises or confined in areas not to be entered during the inspection. Same for other potentially dangerous or hard to control pets. Do not permit owner's pets to escape, be lost, injured.
Bad People: Leaving the Premises Where Occupants Make Threats
Leave the premises if:
Occupants (or other parties) verbally or physically threaten anyone in the party
Occupants manifest weapons or other physical threats
Biting or threatening dog is not controlled
Contact: owner, realtor(s), attorneys, and if appropriate, police;
Do not return to the property without assurance that the potentially dangerous party
is not on and will not be on or at the premises
Q&A session to address reporting concerns, priorities of hazards, hazard
recognition for Home Inspectors
Some Q&A Safety Topics for Home Inspectors
What is the Right or Obligation of a Licensed Home Inspector to
report hazardous conditions, and to whom, and when, and in what form
turn off visibly unsafe heaters, electrical equipment, flooding or burst piping, etc.
disable unsafe equipment when there is evidence of owner/handyman override of safety controls
The "last man in the building" [OK better, "last person" or "last professional"] is typically held responsible for subsequent catastrophes such as exploding equipment, fires, shocks, collapses. A professional is expected to be able to observe, evaluate, and act appropriately.
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Your Home Fire Safety Checklist [PDF document], U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Eastern Region, Eastern Regional Center, 201 Varick Street, Room 903
New York, NY 10014-4811, (212) 620-4120, U.S. Consumer Product Safety, - web search 11/19/2010, original source: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/556.pdf
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
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TECHNICAL REFERENCE GUIDE to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment, useful for determining the age of heating boilers, furnaces, water heaters is provided by Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto - Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
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