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Concrete Saw Safety

Jobsite Conditions

Concrete saw safety starts when you arrive at the jobsite. You can protect your operators by conducting a thorough pre-job review of the task at hand. This simple review allows you to secure any special equipment or change your saw choice prior to the start. 

Sawing and demolition operations are often dusty, noisy, and very active. Saw operators are focused on their sawing operations and may not be aware of the work happening adjacent to them. So, give your saw operators space to work by restricting non-sawing workers at least 100 feet away. You might consider adding barriers that can deflect airborne chips. 

Another way to set the safety standard is to ensure that nearby workers have proper personal protective equipment (PPE). This option may include providing face shields, extra hearing protection, and dust control equipment. 

When you use water to suppress the dust during the concrete sawing operation, anticipate where the slurry and extra water may flow and/or pool. You want to limit situations that can cause slip, trip, and fall hazards. You can use sorbents and stormwater supplies to direct slurry from drains.

When wet sawing, also look to see if there is any electrical cordage in use. Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and watertight electrical connectors for electric tools and equipment to protect workers from shock.

Dust Control
With the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard on Respirable Crystalline Silica Dust for Construction, 29-CFR 1926.1153 in 2018, your responsibility for dust containment on jobsites radically changed. The control, collection, handling, and disposal of concrete dust is now deemed environmentally sensitive. Concrete dust often contains respirable crystalline silica which is hazardous and regulated by OSHA. Any misuse has potential costly implications. 

One of the best sources of the up-to-date best practices with respect to dust control when sawing has been developed by the Concrete Sawing & Drilling Association (CSDA). Their members have worked closely with OSHA to publish a best practice guideline for contractors. The document identifies several practical strategies for handling large volumes of fine concrete dust.   

Another valuable reference you may want to review for information on dust containment is published by OSHA. This fact sheet describes dust controls that can be used to minimize the amount of dust that gets into the air when using concrete saws. 
Don’t forget about developing a disposal plan for the dust and slurry that’s collected. Many local jurisdictions have strict plans on how to properly dispose of this waste.

Reducing Operator Exposure to Saw Kickback
OHSA has identified saw kickback as a dangerous safety concern when using saws. Kickback occurs when the blade ‘catches’ during cutting. This unexpected energy from this sudden stop, throws the saw back toward the operator. Saw operators can be injured either from being struck by the saw, falling back to the ground from the energy burst, or a cut from an unguarded blade.   

When purchasing a handheld concrete saw, pay close attention to how a concrete saw’s design mitigates kickback. Manufacturers offer several options on blade guards, saw design and operating styles that work to reduce operator exposure to injury from kickback. 

In addition to a saw’s design, operators can adopt some techniques during cutting to avoid kickback. 

  • Position the saw so that you can keep the saw blade straight in the cutting groove throughout the entire cut. On most cuts, the best position is perpendicular in the cutting channel. 

  • When making a cutoff, support the end cut so it falls straight to the ground without folding in on the blade after the cut is completed. 

  • Cut with a downward motion, so the lower quadrant of the saw blade is doing the work. 

  • Try to stand parallel to the saw, not behind it. If there is kickback, you want to be positioned so that the saw’s backward motion passes by you, not hitting you directly.

When cutting in a trench or below grade, you should opt for an abrasive chainsaw. A recently published study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology compared and quantified the kickback energies of a circular cut-off saw and a chainsaw equipped with an abrasive chain. This data indicates that using a chainsaw with an abrasive chain is the safer option for cutting ductile pipe in the trench, as compared to a circular cut-off saw. The reason is that the kickback energy of the circular cut-off saw is nearly twice that produced from the grinding action created with the abrasive chain, given the same work conditions. Click here to learn more about cutting pipe with abrasive chainsaws.
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