An Essential Guide To Worksite Safety With Fabric Structures

Ravindra Ambegaonkar
October 4, 2022
5 Minutes Read
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As the world increasingly turns to prefabricated and modular construction methods, an emphasis on worksite safety has become more important than ever. This doesn’t come as a surprise as, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, American businesses pay US $62 billion each year to cover the costs related to worksite injuries.

A fabric structure is a type of building that uses a variety of fabrics as the main building material. The fabrics are usually connected to a frame made of steel or aluminum, and the entire structure is typically covered with a waterproof or fire-resistant coating.

The flexibility and versatility of tension fabric buildings have made them a popular choice for a wide range of applications. Today, they’re being utilized as warehouses, industrial buildings, sports facilities, worksites, and even homes.

Fabric structures are more commonly used on worksites, and while they offer many benefits, there are also some safety concerns to be aware of. This article looks into some of the safety hazards associated with fabric structures, as well as the proper measures you can take to mitigate the risks.

Hazards Associated With Fabric Structures

When it comes to worksite safety, the most important thing to keep in mind is the fact that fabric structures aren't as strong as their traditional counterparts. This means that they need to be handled with more care.

Some of the potential hazards that can be present while working in and around fabric structures include:

1. Risk Of Collapse

This is one of the most important things you should consider when using fabric structures on a worksite. It can be a problem if the structure isn't properly secured or if it's not designed to withstand the weight of the materials used in its construction.

Fabric structures aren't as stable as permanent buildings, and can also be easily damaged by wind or other weather elements.

2. Fire

Another safety concern with fabric structures is the risk of fire. If a fire were to break out in these structures, it could spread quickly and cause severe injuries or even death.

There are a few different fire hazards to be aware of when it comes to fabric structures. Firstly, the fabric itself can be highly flammable. Secondly, the metal frame of the fabric structure can also be a fire hazard, as it can conduct heat and flames. The fabric structure can also block exit routes in the event of a fire, making it difficult for people to escape.

3. Falls

Fabric structures can be tall, and workers may need to access high areas for maintenance or repair works. If people aren't properly trained on how to safely use or evacuate from a fabric structure, they can be at risk of injury or, worse, death.

4. Corrosive Chemicals

Fabric structures can be used to store or process hazardous chemicals. These may cause the corrosion of the said structures. Certain chemicals can cause the fabric to break down over time, and this can lead to the release of harmful fumes.

5. Weather Elements

Another hazard to be aware of is the fact that fabric structures can be easily damaged by wind and other weather elements. Strong winds can cause the fabric to flap and snap, potentially causing damage to the structure. Moreover, heavy rains can cause the fabric to sag and stretch, potentially causing damage to the structure. Additionally, snow and ice can accumulate on the fabric, potentially causing damage to the structure.

Safety Measures

Here are some of the key safety precautions that you need to take when using fabric structures, as well as some tips on how to create a safe worksite environment when using these structures:

1. Always Follow The Manufacturer's Instructions

It’s important to always follow the manufacturer's instructions when using any fabric structure. Such steps will outline the correct way to set up and use the structure, and any safety precautions that need to be taken. If you're unsure about anything, always contact the manufacturer for clarification.

2. Inspect The Structure Before Use

Before using any fabric structure, it's important to inspect it for any damage or wear. Look for holes, tears, or fraying in the fabric. Also, check all connections and fixings to ensure they're secured in place. If you find any damage, don't use the structure; contact the manufacturer for advice.

3. Use The Correct Type Of Fabric

When choosing a fabric, it's important to ensure you select the correct type. Basically, the fabric you choose should be appropriate for the structure's intended use.

For example, if the structure is going to be used in an area with strong winds, you'll need to choose a fabric designed to withstand such conditions and help prevent fires. However, it's essential to not only use flame-resistant fabrics; you also need to have proper fire extinguishers ready.

4. Use Caution When Working Near Overhead Power Lines

Beware of any overhead power lines when setting up or taking down a fabric structure. These lines can pose a serious electrocution hazard if they come into contact with the structure.

Always keep the structure well away from any overhead power lines. But, if it’s inevitable to work near these lines, follow all safety precautions and use the appropriate equipment.

5. Be Aware Of The Weather Conditions

Take time to learn the local weather conditions of the area where you intend to put up the structure. If the location is characterized by severe weather conditions, like high winds and storms, it’d be best to avoid using fabric structures.

The American Petroleum Institute's Recommended Practice (API RP) 756 covers this by recommending fabric structures certified to handle winds of at least 90 MPH and snow loads up to 25 lb. per square foot. Such structures would ensure the safety of the personnel and equipment, as well as of crews working in locations subject to strong winds or severe precipitation.

6. Use Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment

It’s important to use the appropriate personal protective equipment when working with fabric structures. This includes gloves, eye protection, and sturdy footwear. You'll also need to wear insulating gloves and clothing if you're working near overhead power lines.

7. Never Leave The Structure Unattended

When you’ve finished using the fabric structure, always take it down and properly store it. Never leave the structure unattended, as this can pose a safety hazard.

Summary

In summary, working in and around fabric structures can present some unique safety hazards; thus, worksite safety is an important consideration. By following the pointers presented above, you can help create a hazard-free environment when using fabric structures and ensure that your project doesn’t pose any risks.

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