By Evan Gurley
Formwork. It’s an essential component of concrete construction, whether in the field or in a precast plant. Forms come in all shapes, sizes and materials. They can be flat, round, rectangular or octagonal and made from steel, aluminum, wood or rubber.
Regardless of the style or configuration of the form, one thing they all have in common is the potential to injure workers who are not familiar with the characteristics of each form and have not been trained on form safety. Not every form is configured in the same fashion, so the potential hazards presented by each form will vary.ormwork. It’s an essential component of concrete construction, whether in the field or in a precast plant. Forms come in all shapes, sizes and materials. They can be flat, round, rectangular or octagonal and made from steel, aluminum, wood or rubber.
Hazard identification and assessment
One of the root causes of workplace injuries, illnesses and incidents is the failure to identify or recognize hazards that are present, or that could have been anticipated. OSHA places the burden on the employer to determine whether hazards are present or are likely to be present.1
Form safety would fall under the broad OSHA mandate which states, “the employer shall furnish employment and a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”
To identify and assess hazards, employers and workers must:
- Collect and review information about the hazards present or likely to be present in the workplace.
- Conduct initial and periodic workplace inspections of the workplace to identify new or recurring hazards.
- Investigate injuries, illnesses, incidents and close calls/near misses to determine the underlying hazards, their causes, and safety and health program shortcomings.
- Group similar incidents and identify trends in injuries, illnesses and hazards reported.
- Consider hazards associated with emergency or non-routine situations.
- Determine the severity and likelihood of incidents that could result from each hazard identified and use this information to prioritize corrective actions.
Fixing hazards on the spot emphasizes the importance of safety and health and takes advantage of a safety leadership opportunity.
Many potential hazards are inherent to precast forms. Form hazards consist of:
- Walking-working surface hazards
- Mechanical hazards
- Objects falling from forms
- Crushing hazards
These hazards should be known by every employee who works with them. Working with forms is safe as long as those hazards are identified and addressed up front and a safety plan is integrated into daily operations.
Forms and fall protection
Precast forms may be as small as 18 inches by 18 inches or as big as 15 feet by 30 feet and larger. This means that fall protection when working in and around formwork over 4 feet tall must be addressed.
To prevent workers from being injured from falls related to formwork, precasters and form manufactures have developed safety measures that meet OSHA fall protection requirements.
Ruben Gallegos, safety manager at Jensen Precast, said catwalks and 42-inch handrails can easily be installed on most forms to keep employees safe. When handrails are not possible, a fall protection harness and lifeline should be used. Blythe Coons, regional sales manager at Spillman Company, said Spillman regularly adds OSHA-style catwalks with handrails, kick plates and self-closing gates.
Another option is precasters can purchase scaffold brackets and scaffolding systems that connect to aluminum formwork when working at heights over 4 feet, said Jim Aylward, precast sales director at Western Forms.
Energy sources also pose potential hazards for workers. During the servicing and maintenance of forming equipment, the unexpected startup or release of stored energy can result in serious injury to workers.
The following items address controlling mechanical hazards and hazardous energy:
- Forms should be arranged in such a way that their doors can be fully opened and stairs easily accessed.
- In some situations, the inside of the core can be classified as a confined space. Isolate and lock all sources of energy as required while an employee is performing work inside a core.
- Check hoses and hydraulic components periodically.
- Check spring tension on spring-loaded doors. Check springs, brackets and retainers to ensure they are in good working order.
- Check rolling doors to ensure wheels and tracks stay in place when opened. Make sure they are free of debris and concrete so they will roll easily when pushed.
- Adequately brace, crib or suspend individual form panels that are not stored on the floor or in racks.
- Install and remove bolts using door latches to ensure they can close
with little effort.
- Install and remove bolts using the correct wrench or socket.
- Keep all tools free of grease and oil at all times.
- Watch hands when opening and closing hinged cores.
- Watch hands and arms when opening and closing outer walls/jackets.
- Do not walk on top of a pallet or shiplap resting inside the form. Reach around it.
- Install as many components as possible while the rebar cages are on the floor.
Failure to control hazardous energy accounts for nearly 10 percent of the serious accidents in many industries.2 Proper practices and procedures safeguard workers from hazardous energy releases and mechanical hazards.
Form maintenance program
Developing a form maintenance program is one of the ways to ensure that safety and quality is achieved. Not only is this an industry best practice, but it is a requirement for NPCA certified plants.
Section 4.1.3 in the NPCA Quality Control Manual for Precast Concrete Plants states, “Forms and forming equipment for manufacturing precast products shall be of a quality that prevents product damage due to forces and vibrations subjected to the forms. All forms and forming equipment (including pallets, headers, truing rings) shall be measured prior to initial use and not less than annually for dimensional conformance with applicable tolerances.”
The manual goes on to state, “Forms shall be carefully cleaned of concrete build-up after each use. Coatings of form release agents shall not be allowed to build up.”
In addition, the manual states, “Forms for manufacturing precast concrete products shall be of the type and design consistent with industry standards and practices. They should be capable of consistently providing uniform products and dimensions. Forms shall be constructed so that the forces and vibrations to which the forms will be subjected can cause no product damage.”
There’s much to consider when it comes to proper upkeep and maintenance of concrete forms. Developing and following a form maintenance program will ensure the longevity of formwork project after project.
Form hazards are real and should be addressed when performing a hazard assessment of the plant, yard and form storage areas. Each type of form presents a unique safety challenge. Be sure your employees understand all of your forms. No matter what type of form you’re using, follow the basic safety and maintenance guidelines to keep workers safe and enhance the quality of your products.
1 OSHA [29 CFR 1915.152(b)].