Misadventures in Environmental Hazard Abatement and Demolition Projects – Part 2
At the end of our last episode in this epic saga, we’d just received bids on our environmental hazard abatement and demolition project. And if you’ll remember, the low bidder won the job with the low, low price of $345,678. I was apprehensive, and so were my clients, but the contractor, in his best infomercial pitch, promised he’d do the job just exactly as we designed. And if we acted quickly, for and additional $9.95 (plus S&H), he’d double the offer (I added that last part about adding $9.95 plus S&H & doubling the offer).
Then the fun began in earnest. Let’s just say the initial submittal review process was challenging, despite the sit down meeting we had to discuss the project and his plan to execute the work. I started to get the feeling that he hadn’t yet read the plans and specifications. That part isn’t much of a surprise – many projects involve discussions over the finer points contained in the contract documents. I wondered if this guy had a clue on how to conduct a proper construction project. Did I mention this was an environmental hazard abatement and demolition project? Poorly executed environmental hazard abatement and demolition can get people hurt or killed.
The job starts, and right away we see problems. Leaking equipment, spills, demolition that disturbed asbestos containing materials, and questionable asbestos work area containment setup were repeat issues of non-compliance that we discussed with the contractor. We’d get mixed replies – “yeah, we’ll take care of that” or “you’re making a big deal out of nothing”. This project was turning out to be way more difficult than what was needed. We’d point out items clearly indicated in the plans and specifications, only to get blown off. Here are some of the greatest hits:
In an effort to save time, the contractor did some interior demolition prior to allowing his asbestos abatement subcontractor to start work in some areas. Sounds good – except he removed asbestos containing flexible connectors with untrained workers. He also demolished wall materials and disturbed transite vent pipes, also with untrained workers. He did this despite clear indications in the plans and specifications requiring proper removal of all asbestos, face to face discussions with us about the need to remove asbestos before beginning demolition. That’s against the law, much less the requirements in the project scope.
Not to be outdone, the abatement subcontractor used improper work practices, such as allowing workers to drink water inside an active asbestos containment work area, and improper worker decontamination practices. If asbestos abatement workers don’t decontaminate themselves properly, they can carry contamination out of the work area. Once again, the specifications were clear on this – but having an ignorant abatement supervisor (who didn’t have a copy of the plans and specifications) didn’t help.
That also goes for properly bagging asbestos waste – there are certain ways bags are supposed to be wrapped up before going in dumpsters. These standard practices were also ignored. But we got it corrected – finally. Making a contractor dig through a 30 yard container and fix bags one at a time has a way of getting someone’s attention. But that didn’t win us any friends either.
I got kind of tired of hearing about how they did all their other jobs and didn’t have problems. That was to be a recurring theme from the demolition and abatement contractors. On a side note, it kind of makes me wonder if anyone even checks on project compliance any more, or if they do, if they know how to check for cutting corners.
I mean, if you’re not going to follow the plans and specifications, just say so. If you’re going to ignore my requests to correct environmental, health, and safety violations, just say so. I’ll still be ticked off, but at least it’ll save us all time.
It didn’t help that the contractor joked about near misses during demolition. We’re talking about workers almost hit by swinging buckets on heavy equipment, hitting vehicles and dumpsters due to reckless equipment operation, you name it. I guess if the travel alarms on your equipment annoy you, it’s ok to disable them. At least that’s what the contractor thought. One “innovation” was using an old air conditioner housing as a makeshift barbecue grill – even though open flames on the jobsite were prohibited. I bet the fish was good, though.
Another “innovation” was placing an ad in the paper inviting the public to the site to haul off anything they’d like. I mean, that’s green, right? Keep waste out of the landfill and promote reuse. That’s noble.
But what if someone got hurt on the site? Who’d be liable? I cringe to think what could’ve happened.
Later, after the abatement was completed, I just happened to notice some items wrapped in plastic sitting at the front of the site. I walked over and noticed items like door knobs, hardware, and some light fixtures. Light fixtures with asbestos backing were in the abatement scope. I thought to myself, “Naw, there’s no way I’ll see any asbestos laying here.” Yep, there it was. So I pointed it out to the contractor and asked them to get it corrected – immediately. It only took three weeks.
And we’re not done with this project – the demolition is done, but final close out is still a ways off. And I’m not going to pretend that I have any confidence in what final submittals I’ll get.
So, what are some important takeaways?
At the preconstruction meeting, go through the particular phases of the project that are of concern to the Owner, such as environmental hazard abatement and demolition operations near schools or other neighbors. Emphasize site safety and environmental compliance for all aspects of the job. It’s easy to focus on asbestos or lead abatement and forget other workplace hazards. Don’t.
Discuss work by trades or workers that other workers can’t perform, such as environmental hazard abatement (most often requires special training and accreditations).
If necessary, recommend the Owner stop the job if the contractors are not complying with the plans and specifications, and with local, state, and federal regulations.
Make frequent, unannounced visits to check the work. Send personnel who know what to check when visiting these types of sites, and who have experience with this type of work.
Hopefully you’ll convince contractors to comply – even if it’s only for your project. Hang in there, and maintain your resolve.
Don’t accept the answer, “We don’t have to do all this stuff on our other jobs”. That’s not your problem.
When selecting your environmental consultant, consider the following:
- Engage a firm with registered professional environmental engineering expertise, with engineers who have 20+ years’ experience on projects in your area.
- Interview firm principals to determine if their project approach aligns with your expectations.
- Ask them how they can help you avoid problems like those listed above (and add your own experiences you’d like to avoid repeating), and how they’ve handled those issues on past projects.
- Contact colleagues and people you trust to see how they’ve handled these types of projects.