July 2012

Preventing Impalement: One of the Deadly Dozen Hazards

In January of 2012, the Safety and Health Department launched several new initiatives designed to "target the deadly dozen hazardous activities that lead to fatalities and disabling injuries." The focus of this article is to highlight some of the job site impalement hazards that commonly occur during the reinforcing steel and steel erection process. Fatality and incident reports obtained from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the International Association revealed impalement as one of the deadly dozen hazards. Following are illustrations of common impalement hazards our members must recognize and prevent in the workplace. As part of our 2012 Zero Fatality Campaign, remember, "You See Something…You Say Something." Ironworkers must never work over or near unprotected protruding dowels.

Avoid Unprotected Rebar Dowels

The photograph above illustrates a double row of footing dowels that have been properly covered to help prevent impalement hazards. In preparation for pouring concrete in footings, piers, slabs, grade beams, and other sub-surface supports, jobsite conditions are often uneven and create slip hazards. When carrying and placing reinforcing steel bars over or near rebar projections, the exposed projections must be covered with appropriate materials to prevent impalement. Following is the applicable Federal OSHA standard pertaining to the guarding of reinforcing dowels. It should be noted that project contract documents or state-approved OSHA plans may contain more stringent safety standards pertaining to impalement hazards and employer requirements.


Federal OSHA 1926.701(b) - “protruding reinforcing steel shall be guarded to eliminate the hazard of impalement.”

Evaluating Protective Covers—Take a Closer Look

Not all protective covers used for rebar covers are design to prevent impalement and must be evaluated prior to use. In the photograph above, the ironworker superintendent inspects the plastic rebar covers that are sometimes called "mushroom caps." These caps are not intended or manufactured to protect workers from impalement, but rather incidental cuts and scrapes. It is important to inspect all protective covers to ensure that they have been designed to provide impalement protective.

There are protective caps designed to prevent impalement, and they will usually be flat on top, and be fabricated with steel plates inside the covering. This will prevent the rebar dowel from penetrating the protective cover. The photograph above, clearly illustrates the difference between an approved impalement cover with a steel plate and the "mushroom cap." The metal plate is easily seen from the bottom of the cover. Prior to working over or near protruding rebar dowels, ironworkers must verify that approved impalement covers have been provided.

Using Wooden Troughs as Protective Covers

Wooden troughs can be an effective method to provide impalement protection. The photograph above illustrates a double row of wall dowels that have been properly covered with wooden troughs to prevent impalement hazards. However, the wooden troughs must be designed and tested under the direction of a qualified person to ensure that impalement protection has been documented. The use of wood or metal troughs to cover protruding dowels is a quick and easy method of eliminating the exposure to dowel impalement.

Precautions for Working Over Dowel Covers

Prior to accessing curtain wall steel, all impalement covers must be installed on the protruding rebar dowels. The photograph above illustrates a row of wall dowels that have been properly protected by impalements covers. The manufactures of various types protective dowel covers may have a maximum height at which work can be performed above them. In some cases, the manufacture will identify the maximum fall distance on the top of the protective cover. Additionally, some state approved OSHA plans may contain more stringent standards pertaining to the design and maximum fall distances for employees working over dowels covers.

Impalement Hazards from Other Projections

Impalement hazards are not limited to protruding rebar, but other types of projections commonly found on job sites. The photograph above illustrates a potential impalement hazard from the vertical angle iron used for a cable guardrail system. Angle iron and other vertical projects on the job site may not be suitable for protective covers. However, they can present an impalement hazard to ironworkers working above them. In this photograph, the angle iron posts are directly beneath the field beam where ironworkers move point to point. Special attention must be given to job site conditions and work activities that are being performed above any type of projection that creates an impalement hazard.

The "2012 Zero Fatality" campaign will challenge all members to "intervene and prevent unsafe conditions and unsafe acts" in the workplace. Impalement hazards created by protruding rebar and other similar projections are one of the "deadly dozen hazards" that has contributed to fatalities and disabling injuries. This campaign will include hard-hat stickers and gang-box stickers for training facilities and local unions. I will continue to work closely with district councils, local unions, and IMPACT regional advisory boards throughout the United States and Canada to promote the "2012 Zero Fatality."