Many investment recovery professionals are responsible for disposing of old or obsolete buildings as well as equipment. Frequently these buildings have had no heat, no power, and no maintenance for months or even years. There are several important safety issues to consider when entering these buildings.
Review MSDS sheets.
First and foremost, if there are Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for the contents of the building, review them and take all necessary precautions for residual materials/chemicals before entering the building.
Tell others where you are.
Next, inform someone of your exact location in the building and the duration of time you plan to be there. Whenever possible, take at least one other person with you and bring along a cell phone or two-way radio.
Prepare for bad lighting.
Probably the most common and most dangerous situation in a vacant building is inadequate lighting. Inexpensive LED hard hat–mounted lights provide relatively good illumination, free your hands, and will last for many hours without having to change or recharge batteries. A hand held flashlight is also necessary both as a backup and for illuminating other areas.
Beware of standing water or ice.
Inoperative pumps, leaking pipes, leaking roofs, etc., can cause basements and pits to flood. Water thought to be only a few inches deep might really be several feet deep. In colder climates, water may freeze, causing slippery surfaces. It’s also possible in a dark building that ice could be mistaken for a regular floor surface and if the ice isn’t thick, the water beneath could pose a drowning risk.
Think twice before turning off the heat.
Extreme temperature variations often cause paint to flake off walls and ceilings. Although older layers of paint may contain lead, brief exposure to lead based paint (LBP) chips usually doesn’t pose an immediate health hazard. Lead based paint may not have to be abated before demolition if firmly adhered to wall and ceiling substrates, but loose LBP flakes and LBF flakes on the ground may have to be abated, so think twice before turning the heat completely off.
Use the “3-Point Rule” on ladders or stairs.
Water from leaking roofs and corrosive chemicals can rot, rust, or corrode roof decks, floors, ladders, stairwells, and guardrails. Make sure when climbing a ladder or a stairwell that you use the “3-Point Rule”; always have three of your four limbs in contact with the ladder or stairs.
Assess the asbestos.
Normally secure asbestos containing material (ACM) may fall to the ground and be dispersed throughout the building if damaged by wind or water. It may also be thrown on the ground by thieves stealing previously insulated materials. There have been cases where the EPA has required that the entire building and its contents be abated and disposed of as asbestos waste (obviously at a huge expense) because of gross asbestos contamination. There are comprehensive federal OSHA worker safety regulations and EPA regulations for the removal and disposable of ACM. Many facilities are now labeling pipes for ACM content or providing color-coded bands; red for ACM, blue for non-ACM.
Seek proper ventilation in confined areas.
Basements or tunnels that have not been ventilated may be devoid of oxygen and contain leaking or residual chemicals, making them dangerous confined spaces. Even rotting organic material can give off poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas, especially when disturbed. A confined space should never be entered without complying with comprehensive confined space entry procedures including testing, provisions for supplied breathing air, constant monitoring, standby rescue, etc.
Guard against theft.
Besides the obvious loss of revenue and potential contract disputes with demolition contractors, theft of materials from a building poses several other concerns to the investment recovery professional. Because of its value, theft of copper and other nonferrous metals is a huge problem. Thieves have been injured and even electrocuted while trying to steal copper from live powered buildings.
Assume oil-containing equipment is PCB-contaminated.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were chemicals added to dielectric fluid in older switches, transformers, and other electrical equipment. The EPA has determined that PCBs are a carcinogen and have promulgated strict rules for their cleanup and disposal. Thieves have been known to break open transformer cases to get to the copper. If the broken transformer case contained PCB oil and leaked, cleanup costs and potential fines for PCB contaminated soil and concrete could be extremely expensive.
Watch out for bird doo!
Even pigeons can be dangerous, especially when climbing. Besides their droppings causing histoplasmosis, a lung disease, people are often startled when climbing ladders because a pigeon suddenly flies past them.
Conclusion:Investment recovery practitioners that find themselves in old or obsolete buildings need to be particularly aware of the potential safety hazards they may encounter. Situational awareness (SA) requires the accurate perception and understanding of all the factors and conditions within the facility that affect safety before, during, and after your visit. In short, situational awareness for IR professionals is simply what you need to know to not be surprised. SA is no accident!
Safety concerns for IR professionals will be a featured topic at the 2018 Seminar & Trade Show…and so much more! Make plans now to attend the big event March 18-21, Orlando at the Caribe Royale Resort.