This Safety and Health Information Bulletin is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. The Bulletin is advisory in nature, informational in content, and is intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace. Pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must comply with hazard-specific safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or by a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. In addition, pursuant to Section 5(a)(1), the General Duty Clause of the Act, employers must provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
This Safety and Health Information Bulletin alerts employers and employees that manually raised balloon framed walls could become too heavy for employees to hold and could collapse back onto the employees. From July 1999 through July 2004, 22 balloon framed wall collapses were reported. Four of these accidents occurred in the Chicago area. In one of these accidents, in August 2003, eight employees were sent to local hospitals; two of them suffered broken feet and vertebrae. Six other employees suffered back, shoulder and neck strains. This bulletin will summarize:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Calumet City Area Office investigated an accident where the weight of a balloon framed wall became too heavy for the employees raising the wall, and the wall collapsed back onto the employees. OSHA's Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) data from July 1999 through July 2004 recorded 21 additional incidents involving the collapse of balloon framed walls. As a result of these 22 incidents, five employees died and 28 employees were injured, 16 of whom required hospitalization.
Balloon framing involves the placement of framed walls (generally over 10 feet in height) that run the entire vertical length from the structure's floor sill plate to the roof. Balloon framed walls have been raised for years using manual labor. However, over the years framed walls have become heavier due to contemporary construction designs. Many contractors have developed guidelines for employees raising such walls. However, these guidelines are not consistent and often rely heavily on the foreman guessing the weight of the wall and estimating the number of employees necessary to perform the lift.
The accident near the Calumet City Area Office occurred on a site where a contractor was building new homes. The wall involved in the incident was 22 feet, 10 inches in width and 18 feet in height, with a 30-foot chimney chase attached. The wall weighed approximately 2,300 pounds, and 15 employees were raising it by hand.
The wall was built on the deck (first floor) of the house. Fifteen carpenters spread out along the top plate of the wall and began to lift it. The carpenters lifted the wall to approximately waist height, placed it on saw horses, and then attached braces. The carpenters then continued to lift the wall. Three carpenters dropped back to help push up the wall using the braces. The additional weight distributed to the remaining carpenters overwhelmed the 12 carpenters who remained at the top plate.
The carpenters interviewed stated that the wall was at an angle of approximately 30 degrees when it fell back onto the workers. The carpenters attempted to "back down" the wall, but it fell onto them. Several employees were able to step into window openings, avoiding the falling wall, while several others were unable to avoid the falling wall, including two employees who were pinned under the wall. These two employees were freed by the other carpenters, but they suffered broken feet and vertebrae. Six other carpenters were treated at local hospitals and released with strains and sprains of their backs, shoulders and necks.
Employers may use a combination of the following methods to protect employees from the potential collapse of balloon framed walls:
The limited access zone should be equal to the height of the wall plus four feet and should run the entire length of the wall;
The limited access zone should be restricted to entry by employees actively engaged in lifting the wall and no other workers be allowed to enter the zone;
The limited access zone should remain in place until the wall is adequately supported and braced to prevent accidental collapse;
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