Demolition and Environmental Health and Safety
Whenever a building or structure is demolished, a number of environmental factors need to be taken into consideration, as the process could create a situation where the local environment is damaged as a direct or indirect result. As well as having a duty of care towards the health and safety of people (Related article: Manual Handling During Demolition), both workers and nearby members of the public, those responsible for demolishing the building also have environmental responsibilities.
The burning of material is not permitted without the prior consent of the local authorities. If the material is mainly wood, it may be tempting to avoid having to clear the waste by burning it, or, if the building itself is a big wooden barn or the like, to burn it down as the form of demolition. However, not only would this release a lot of smoke into the air, there may also be other substances present which could give off toxic fumes. For example, there may have been half-empty paint cans in the barn, or the wood may have been treated with a chemical preservative. Fires may also get out of control and damage the surrounding trees and plant life, particularly in the summer when the ground is dry, destroying animal habitats at the same time.
In fact, the risk of fire manifests itself in a variety of ways. The demolition process could damage gas pipes or underground cables when the structure falls and impacts the ground, or machinery is used to penetrate the ground to work on the foundations. This damage may cause a gas leak which could cause an explosion if it is ignited from a spark from welding or cutting machinery, or a lighted cigarette. Also, arsonists may deliberately start a fire if the site is unattended or poorly guarded when work is not taking place (usually at night). Hazardous substances located on site may be burnt and released, and, depending on the particular substances in question, can potentially be extremely damaging to the environment.
Even without the presence of fire, hazardous chemicals can also damage the environment if they are not stored correctly or disposed of inappropriately. The substance can seep into the ground, killing plant life as well as getting into the nearby watercourses. If these chemicals do get into rivers, streams and the like, not only will it cause damage for fish and animals, it may also lead to ill-health for humans (most likely children) who go swimming in the polluted water.
Noise from the site may disturb local wildlife (not to mention residents!) and should be kept to a minimum. Even though it is often not the first thing that comes into mind, noise actually plays quite a key part of the overall health and safety considerations as it can be damaging to a worker's ears as well as a nuisance to local residents and wildlife. This combination of a health risk and a nuisance means a noise assessment needs to be carried out before work commences, along with providing necessary protective equipment such as ear defenders if noisy work is unavoidable.
An environmental health and safety course such as the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate can help you to become much more environmentally-aware of how your activities may impact upon the environment, and teach you how to perform suitable risk assessments and implement controls to prevent incidents from occurring which harm the environment.