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Handling Lead and Asbestos and Other Hazardous Materials

Bookmark and Share If you work in construction, it's not uncommon to encounter asbestos, lead, and other hazardous materials on a remodeling or deconstruction job. When that does happen, here are the appropriate steps you're going to want to take:

Clear the Area

If you find asbestos in a home, you'll want to clear the area right away. Lead exposure can take years to create any lasting damage in the human body, but even mild exposure to asbestos can be dangerous.


As soon as possible, report your findings to the proper authorities. In more cases than not, this will be the EPA. False alarms do happen, it's not uncommon for some other material to be mistaken for asbestos, but the EPA will typically have some tests conducted in order to determine what it is that you're dealing with. You'll also want to let your client know that anyone who has been living or working in the building has potentially been exposed to the hazardous material.

For Asbestos and Other Hazards: Get a Professional

If you're removing asbestos, you need to be certified, and if you are certified, you still need to report to the proper authorities that you're going to be taking asbestos out of an old home.

If you would like to get certified to remove asbestos in order to prevent any findings from slowing a construction job down too much, you can get started at the EPA website. https://www.epa.gov/asbestos/training

For Lead: Proceed With Caution

You can remove lead on your own in most states with or without certification, but it can be a tricky process. Make sure that anyone involved in the job is wearing a dust mask, goggles and gloves, and be sure to clear the area to ensure that lead dust doesn't get on anything. Sweep and clean the area thoroughly when you're done.


Asbestos is more troublesome than it's worth, but it is very good at one thing: preventing fire damage. It is nearly impossible to get the stuff to burn. Following the removal of any hazardous building material, you have to take a moment to consider why it was installed in the first place. Lead pipes are easy enough to replace with PVC, while asbestos removal should be followed up with the installation of something to replace it, like fiber-cement siding.

Finally: You'll want to keep an eye on the health of yourself and your crew. The real threat is prolonged exposure, and most remodeling jobs are over and done with by the time the effects of exposure to hazardous materials can really be felt, but as always, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Identifying (And Saying No To) Dangerous Work

Bookmark and Share You're not going to last very long in the construction business if you turn down any job with even the slightest hint of danger. In building contracts, your whole business is dealing with pneumatic drills and sledgehammers and table saws all day long, oftentimes three stories up in a building with no walls on it. The trick is being able to identify unmanageable, unnecessary danger, and knowing when to say no.

The source of danger doesn't always come from the nature of the job itself. Roofing a two story home offers the risk of falling and spending the next couple months on worker's comp, but that risk is relatively slim if you have the right tools, the right people, and the right timeline and budget to do the job safely. On the other, something as simple as building a doghouse can lead to serious injury if you're trying to rush the job along for a client with unrealistic expectations.

The cornerstones of safety on a job site come down to the following:
  • The time and budget to do the job safely. A client asking you to do a $2,000,000 job for $500,000 could well be the biggest contract a fledgling company has ever been offered, but it may well be the last one they're ever offered if they wind up understaffed and under-equipped in order to stay within the budget.

  • A crew with the requisite experience to handle the job without incident. Some tasks we learn on the job. Electrical wiring, welding and operating heavy machinery usually aren't those. Don't take a job if you don't have, or can't get, the people you'll need to do the dangerous parts.

  • A safe work environment. If you're hired to install sunlights in a section of a shopping mall and the proprietors refuse to close that section off while you're working there, an injury is effectively guaranteed. Construction is best conducted in an environment that the construction company is able to control.

  • Proper insurance coverage. Adequate coverage doesn't ensure that nobody's going to get hurt, but it does ensure that you'll be prepared should that happen.
If you don't have these cornerstones in place, then it really doesn't matter how well trained your people are in responding to an emergency, because they're not going to be able to keep up with the emergencies that are taking place no a daily basis.

Workers Comp and Cabin Fever

Bookmark and Share Being stuck at home on workers compensation after an injury is easier for some than it is for others. If you're only working construction in order to pay the bills, and your real passion is daytime TV, then you're one of the lucky ones. For others, it's easy to go a little stir-crazy after the first week of reruns, game shows and soap operas.

It's easy to fill your time with various activities. You can play Xbox all day, you can watch your favorite movies, you can build a model ship or take up Sudoku. It's not so much a matter of finding something to do, it's a matter of finding something important to do. For many of us, work isn't just a way to keep a roof over our heads, it's a way to contribute something to the world. We take pride in driving by an office building and saying "I installed the A/C ducts in there." Somehow, putting together a jigsaw puzzle just doesn't deliver the same sense of gratification.

So it's not just about filling your time up, keeping your hands busy, it's about finding a way to make a meaningful contribution, even while temporarily unable to ply your trade. In other words, even if you stay busy, you can still wind up feeling depressed if, at the end of the day, you look at how you've been spending your time and you think "Who cares?"

Finding a way to fill your time that is actually meaningful is more challenging than simply filling your time with whatever distractions you can find. A meaningful pastime is...Something that you're interested in.

  • Something that you're interested in.

  • Something that makes a difference on some level, and...

  • Something that is accessible.
Something that interests you means that it has to be meaningful to you, first and foremost. Meaningful in a broader sense could be helping a cause that you believe in, or just taking some photographs and entering them in a local contest. As for accessibility, well, if you broke your ankle at work, then this is not the time to volunteer for an AIDS walk.

The frustrations that we encounter when cooped up at home are not just about staying busy. If all we want to do is stay busy, we can buy a pack of cards and play solitaire for eight hours a day. It's about doing something that enriches your own life, and which returns a feeling that you are contributing something to the world.

Easier said than done, certainly. But just because you're stuck without work for the time being doesn't mean that you're completely out of options.

When "Any Knucklehead" Can't Do It

Bookmark and Share You don't need special training to haul an armful of 2x4's across the jobsite, and most anyone can manage a hammer and nails, help to pull a rope to lift a wall, or attach hurricane ties to the joints. A lot of the skills that are required on a jobsite are easy enough to pick up as you go. Even the stuff that seems impossible to the greenest gofer on the first day of the job usually sinks in with a little on-site experience.

But, that doesn't really describe every job on the site, does it? No experienced foreman hands the new guy a box of copper and says "Go install the wiring right quick." Are there some tasks on the site that demand less training and expertise than their respective unions would like to think? Well, that's a debate for another day. But it's hard to deny that there are some jobs that not just any knucklehead can get done.


Laying tiles and brick isn't the most complicated job on the site, but quality masonry is a little more nuanced than slinging cement and gluing bricks together. Stonemasonry, for instance, involves the use of actual stone, and results in a wall that can last for decades with little to no maintenance. Basic brick-laying is something that you can learn in a weekend of apprenticing, but serious stonemasonry demands real training and experience.


Sticking two pipes together isn't rocket science. You might or might not be able to hook an entire office building up without help, but most anyone who's worked on a building project can figure out most of the basic tasks involved with plumbing. A big part of what a professional plumber brings to the table is an intimate knowledge of building regulations, safety standards and other laws and guidelines regulating the field. A professional not only ensures that the pipes work just fine, but that you don't get hit with an order to tear those pipes out of the walls and start over because you failed to file the proper paperwork.


You don't need special licenses or permits to lay down some drywall, but it really isn't something that any gofer hopping off the back of a truck can handle. It's not so much that drywall is difficult to do, but that there's an artistry to it if you don't want to wind up with big globs of plaster sticking out under the wallpaper. On that note, painting is a task that's easy to do, and not so easy to do right.

Over time, you'll learn where each worker's strengths and weaknesses lie. Not every task requires a special license, but some do demand a little more experience than others.