Concrete Cutting Safety Tips
Cutting and coring concrete is necessary in construction, renovation, or expansion projects where precise cuts and openings in concrete structures are required. Concrete cutting can be a potentially hazardous activity, so it's essential to prioritize your safety and the safety of your team.
From January 29 – February 2, 2024 GPRS safety experts will travel the country to give complimentary Concrete Sawing and Drilling Safety Week presentations. These free educational seminars include breakfast or lunch and are focused on mitigating the risks of working with and around concrete. Schedule your presentation today.
What is Concrete Cutting?
Concrete cutting and coring are used by contractors to remove specific sections of concrete structures with precision and accuracy. Cutting involves making precise cuts in concrete using various methods and tools like wall saws, slab saws, hydraulic chain saws, or wire saws that are used to remove portions of concrete walls, floors, or slabs.
Coring employs specialized equipment such as core drills to create precise holes for electrical, plumbing, HVAC installations, and core sampling. The goal is to create clean and controlled openings, make modifications, or remove material without causing damage to the surrounding areas or compromising the structural integrity of the remaining concrete.
Why Do Contractors Cut or Core Concrete?
Concrete may need to be cut during new construction sequencing, and commercial or industrial facility expansions, for example. Here are a few situations where contractors provide concrete cutting and coring services:
- Cutting concrete walls or floors to create access points for plumbing, electrical, and HVAC installations
- Targeted demolition to remove a portion of a concrete slab
- Removing portions of a concrete slab to create new entrances or exits
- Cutting concrete to install or retrofit new equipment
- Drilling holes in concrete for anchor bolts to secure heavy equipment or machinery
What are the Risks When Cutting Concrete?
Contractors who regularly work with concrete and masonry drilling and cutting equipment are at a high risk of a wide range of hazards, like saw kickback, silica dust (Respirable Crystalline Silica or RCS), toxic exhaust fumes, electrocution, slips, falls, noise pollution, vibration, and more. The experienced team at GPRS has written this article to educate you on the risks when cutting concrete.
- Kickback, Push-Back & Pull-In – Concrete cutting poses kick-back, push-back and pull-in dangers if the saw cannot run freely through the concrete. Kickback is where the saw thrusts up and backward, push-back is where the saw thrusts straight back, and pull-in is where the saw pulls the operator in toward the blade. Blades are designed to go in a straight line; crooked or off-line cuts can cause the blade to pinch or bite into the concrete and jam. Though a blade may be jammed, the running motor builds up power and can cause an operator to lose control of the saw and become exposed to the cutting blade. Severe injuries can result and include cuts, bruises, puncture woods, broken bones, wounds to the eyes, and even death.
- Hazardous Silica Dust – When inhaled through the mouth and nose, concrete dust, made up of silica can cause an allergic reaction, and irritation of the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs. Any exposure to silica dust over the legally prescribed limit can lead to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases like silicosis. All concrete cuts require the use of water to minimize dust production or and masks and ventilation systems to minimize this risk. Read how to protect yourself from Silicosis on a jobsite.
- Obstructions & Utilities in the Concrete – Obstructions such as steel reinforcement, rebar, electrical cables, water, and gas pipes are common beneath concrete. Hitting an obstruction, could cause kickbacks or can expose the operator to the risk of electrocution, toxic gases, or even cause an explosion. Damaging a post-tension cable can compromise the integrity of the structure and cause severe injury.
- Pinch Points & Blunt Cutting Edges – Pinch points are areas where a body part can get caught between moving or stationary objects or machinery. Blunt cutting edges occur when the saw blade has a wrong diamond cutting bond. In this situation the bond holds the cutting diamonds together too hard and it leads to a delay in the cutting process, potentially requiring the operator to apply additional force. These situations lead to kickback, push-back, and pull-in injuries that can be severe if the operator is not careful. Read how to mitigate pinch points and kickbacks.
- Toxic Fumes – Gas motors emit carbon monoxide and other hazardous gases and fumes if contractors are not wearing the proper PPE to protect themselves.
- Power Cords – Broken power cords with exposed wiring can create a fire hazard. Not only can the insulation material around the wiring begin to melt if the cord is damaged, but a damaged cord can produce an improper electrical flow to equipment.
- Wet, Slippery & Uneven Surfaces – These situations can enhance the risk of slipping, and tripping of the operator, leading to falls or saw kick-back.
- Vibration – Over a long period of time, body or arm vibration may result in a loss of grip strength in the hands and fingers, carpal tunnel syndrome, or nerve, joint, and circulatory damage.
- Working Alone – Working alone poses unique challenges and risks because there is no one immediately available to offer assistance or support if something goes wrong.
- Noise – A high decibel level of noise from concrete cutting or drilling is a potential workplace hazard, and could lead to hearing loss. On the decibel scale, the threshold of pain occurs at 140 decibels; heavy equipment typically measures at 95-110 decibels. OSHA requires employers to implement a hearing conservation program when noise exposure is at or above 85 decibels, averaged over 8 working hours.
What Precautions Should You Take When Cutting Concrete?
It is important to adhere to local and national safety regulations and guidelines related to concrete cutting and coring. Always prioritize workers’ safety, and if you are unsure about any aspect of concrete cutting, seek guidance from experienced professionals or consult with safety experts. The experienced team at GPRS advises taking these precautions when cutting concrete.
- Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Always wear appropriate PPE, including a hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, dust masks, ventilation systems, gloves, and steel-toed boots.
- Inspect All Equipment – Before starting any concrete work, inspect the cutting tools and equipment for damage or wear. Ensure that all safety guards are in place and functioning properly. Ensure that the contractor has selected the right equipment for the worksite.
- Safety Training – Ensure that operators are adequately trained in the operation of concrete cutting tools and equipment to cut through concrete safely and effectively. Ensure that your team receives up-to-date safety training and adheres to standards set forth by OSHA.
- Concrete Scanning – Perform concrete scanning on existing concrete slabs and structures before any build out, renovation, or excavation work begins to ensure jobsite safety and prevent costly mistakes. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) can locate the precise details of a wide range of objects, such as post tension cables, reinforcements, and conduit embedded in concrete. Experienced professionals can mark the locations and depths of the obstructions and utilities on the slab.
- Ventilation – Work in well-ventilated areas to minimize exposure to hazardous silica dust. It is important to use an exhaust ventilation system or wear a dust mask. OSHA's silica dust regulations require that workers’ RCS exposure be no more than the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 μg/m3 (50 micrograms per cubic meter of air) over an eight-hour TWA (time weighted average). Workers should also have access to large washbasins and toiletries needed to clean up after a day's work.
- Electrical Safety – Ensure operations have proper electrical safety training to protect them from dangers related to the use of electricity. Make sure that electrical cords are in good condition and the equipment is properly grounded. Ensure operators are cautious of water and wet conditions to prevent electrical hazards.
- Secure the Work Area – When concrete cutting or coring, clear the work area of unnecessary personnel and secure the perimeter to prevent unauthorized access. Be sure to mark the designated cutting area with warning signs and barricades. Ensure that the concrete is supported and secured to prevent movement during cutting.
- Emergency & Fire Safety – Make sure a first aid kit is available on site. Be knowledgeable of the emergency exits and evacuation routes. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of accidental fires, especially when cutting through concrete reinforced with metal components.
- Communication – Be sure to clearly communicate with team members during concrete cutting operations. Use hand signals or radios to coordinate movements and activities.
People who regularly work with concrete and masonry drilling and cutting equipment are at a high risk of a wide range of hazards. But ensuring that you have the right training for the equipment you’re using, performing a hazard assessment before each task, and ensuring you’re wearing the correct PPE will go a long way toward minimizing risks and injuries.
How Can I Learn More About Concrete Sawing and Drilling Safety?
GPRS Concrete Sawing & Drilling Safety Week (CSDSW) is an annual event designed to help job sites become safer. We meet with companies to discuss the common risks and hazards associated with concrete sawing and drilling.
GPRS will come to your jobsite or office during the week of January 29 – Feb 2, 2024 to perform a concrete sawing or drilling safety presentation.
To date, we’ve educated over 20,000 construction professionals through CSDSW. In 2023 alone, over 150 companies proved their dedication to the safety of their workers by hosting CSDSW talks at their offices or job sites.
GPRS has 22 years’ experience, providing concrete scanning services with a 99.8% accuracy rate. Our Project Managers clear dozens of cutting/coring areas daily with an exemplary level of accuracy. Learn more about GPRS Concrete Scanning.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the benefits of concrete scanning?
There are many benefits to utilizing concrete scanning services in your next project. Taking precautions like concrete scanning or utility locating can help keep your project on time, on budget, and safe. If you fail to schedule a concrete scan and damage an unknown utility during an excavation, this is often costly to fix. The expense of these unnecessary repairs results in a loss of time and budget.
What are the types of concrete scanning?
GPRS provides two specific but different scanning services: elevated concrete slab scanning and concrete slab-on-grade locating. Elevated concrete slab scanning involves detecting embedded electrical conduits, rebar, post-tension cables, and more before core drilling a hole through the slab. Performing a concrete slab-on-grade locating service typically involves scanning a trench line for conduits before conducting saw cutting and trenching to install a sanitary pipe, water line, or something similar. Learn more.
What is a pinch point?
Simply put, a pinch point is anywhere two objects meet where a body part can get caught. In construction, one of the most common pinch points is where the rotating blade of a piece of cutting equipment meets its housing.
How do you avoid pinch points?
There are several steps you can take to protect yourself when operating cutting equipment on the jobsite. This includes keeping your hands, fingers, and other body parts away from any moving components of the machinery, reading any warning labels on the equipment, and wearing proper protective equipment, such as gloves. Learn more.
What is kickback?
Kickback occurs when a saw fails to cut through the material it encounters and “kicks back” at the operator. Kickback can send your hand or fingers into the path of the saw blade or send the material you’re cutting at you or those around you.
How do you prevent kickbacks?
One of the best ways to prevent kickbacks is ensuring that the saw blade you’re using is sharp and is not bent, broken, or warped. Never twist the blade while cutting, and always wear proper protective equipment while operating a saw. Learn more.