Structural Iron and Steel Worker Safety

In the process of constructing the iron and steel backbone of buildings, bridges, and other major structures, structural iron and steel workers hoist, maneuver, weld, rivet, and bolt heavy, awkward girders, columns, and plates all while working at great heights. Because of the size and weight of the materials they handle, and the often dizzying heights at which they work, iron and steel workers cannot ignore workplace hazards.

Falls are a serious hazard. If you’re an iron or steel worker, get training in your company fall prevention program, which may include nets, scaffolding or fall protection harnesses. Ensure that you wear the appropriate fall protection gear each and every time that you work at heights. All of the components of your fall protection should be compatible, preferably from a single manufacturer. Make sure that you have the appropriate anchoring and positioning mechanisms for your job task. Inspect your gear every time you put it on and don’t use it longer than the manufacturer’s recommended lifetime for the materials.

Hoisting equipment is invaluable in providing the power you need to move heavy and awkward loads, but it poses a risk when you place a load and cables under stress. Get training in your hoisting equipment and procedures. Inspect the hoisting gear and line each time you use them. Ensure that the load is even and securely fastened. Do not operate a hoist if it’s not in safe condition; a shifting load, a sudden loss of lifting power or a snapping cable could cause a serious crush injury or death. Move the load slowly while watching for obstacles and other workers. Practice worksite communication techniques so you can get positioning and emergency shut-off information immediately.

Because it’s your job to physically maneuver the structural components into place and fasten them down, be aware of the ergonomic risks you take. Let the hoists do the heavy lifting for you; good communication with the hoist operator can save you work and back muscle. When you’re using power tools, be aware of the potential for ergonomic vibration injuries. Watch for symptoms such as finger blanching, tingling, and numbness. Use low-vibration tools and protective gloves and remember to hold the tools with a light, secure grip. Practice good body mechanics. Avoid prolonged awkward postures and take mini-breaks every 20-30 minutes to give your body a break.

Protect yourself and coworkers from falling objects. Ensure that you securely fasten the materials you’re working with to the loading equipment or to the structure before you remove supporting cables. Use tool lanyards to ensure that they will not fall if you misplace or drop them. A one-ounce bolt can feel like a bullet when coming from 10 stories up, so always wear your hard hat.

A hard hat and fall protection gear aren’t the only protection you’ll need on the job. Wear all of the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary for your job site and the tasks you will be assigned. This may include safety shoes, safety glasses, sturdy work gloves, and/or life jackets for over-water operations. Because a construction site can be an extremely noisy environment; use hearing protection. Also, as you’re often exposed to the heat and the cold, wear layers of appropriate clothing to protect you from the elements.

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