Stories From the Field

Post: Some Thoughts About Safety (#1 In a Series)

Monday June 29, 2015

This is the first in an ongoing series of safety-related posts. See later entries Part 2 and Part 3.

I was recently driving up Damen Avenue on the north side of Chicago. A group of masons I did not recognize were working on restoring this garage parapet wall. What I saw concerned me greatly, so I pulled over and snapped this photo.

Masons dangerously and improperly restoring a garage parapet wall.

Regarding safety, this is what concerned me:

  • The metal legs of the pipe scaffolding are sitting directly on the concrete driveway apron. Because the mason did not use base plates and mud sills to level the set-up, the pipe scaffolding is pitching away from the building at the same angle as the concrete driveway apron upon which it is standing. This increases the likelihood of the scaffolding tipping over and the mason getting injured.
  • No back rails have been installed to prevent the mason from accidentally stepping or falling off the scaffolding! Because falls of 6 vertical feet or greater are considered potentially lethal by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), any person standing on this type of pipe scaffolding needs to wear a safety harness and be tied off if no back rails are installed (there are no back rails on this scaffolding and the mason is not wearing a harness).
  • See the assistant standing under the scaffolding? For his own protection from head injuries, OSHA requires that he wear a hard hat. (In this photo the mason standing on the scaffolding is the only one wearing a hard hat.)

Regarding the work performed, this is what concerned me:

  • The mason has elected to strip just the outside layer (i.e., wythe) of brick from this parapet wall and leave the back-up brick wall untouched — even above the roofline. The process of removing the outside face brick requires pounding and vibrating the entire parapet wall, and this action loosens up all the bricks…even the ones the mason is not planning to replace. The compromised mortar bond resulting from all that pounding leads to premature deterioration of the back-up wall he is not rebuilding!
  • The mason has chosen not to remove the capstones and install a through-wall flashing detail. This leaves the wall susceptible to water infiltration between the capstones (where stone touches stone) and under the stone (where stone touches the first course of brick). Any time a mason is rebuilding any number of wythes of a parapet wall, it is always prudent to remove the capstones, provide through-wall flashing and stainless steel drip edges, and re-set the capstones.

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