Chimneys are tall, some as high as 1,000 feet. If you are building a chimney, getting to work can be a challenge.

OSHA has standards to prevent falls when accessing and leaving work platforms, but they do not quite fit the specific needs of chimney work. It is not possible, for example, to build a scaffold to take you to a work platform that is constantly moving (as occurs in slip form built chimneys). It makes more sense to use a rope-guided personnel hoist to lift people up to the work platform.   Over 30 years ago, chimney contractors petitioned OSHA for a “variance” to allow use of this safer method. Over the years, other variances were granted, each somewhat different, to address specific kinds of chimneys and their methods of construction. The result is a diverse collection of unique exceptions to the general rule on work platforms.

The Stack and Chimney Health and Safety Committee, which includes all the major chimney contractors in the U.S. and representatives from all the major trades, is working with OSHA to develop appropriate, but more general, chimney safety requirements. On August 11, representatives from federal OSHA, Michigan OSHA and the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division met for a site visit with a contractor, Hamon Custodis, on a Detroit Edison power plant in Monroe, Michigan, where a 580 foot-high, 70 foot-wide chimney is under construction. The purpose was to educate OSHA on the safety devices and procedures used to hoist personnel in slip form built chimneys.

The visit began with a Job Safety Analysis and toolbox orientation for the visitors. The site had about two dozen workers, and operations were running round-the-clock. Concrete was hoisted to the work platform using a materials hoist, poured into Georgia buggies, dumped into the forms and vibrated by the seven Laborers on the platform. Ironworkers then added rebar to the top of the form as the entire form and platform were continually lifted every three minutes, one inch at a time. A separate personnel hoist was used to bring workers and visitors to the work platform, at the time about 450 feet high. Workers employed safety harnesses while in the personnel hoist, when climbing ladders onto scaffold platforms above and below the working platform and when leaning over any openings; for instance, to monitor concrete bucket deliveries.

Following the tour, a debriefing was held. Everyone on the visit expressed satisfaction with the safety procedures on the site. Thanking Hamon Custodis and Detroit Edison for allowing access to this site, the OSHA representatives said the visit helped the agency acquire a first-hand understanding of the work and procedures in use. The Committee and OSHA will meet in the fall to hammer out a consolidated variance for this work. With both labor and management on board, an agreement seems likely to follow. The LHSFNA will continue to assist the Committee and facilitate this agreement over the next few months.

[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division Director.]