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Set-Up Is Risky Business
By George Porter
(George Porter is a consultant to the manufactured housing
industry. He is president of Manufactured Housing Resources, P.O.
Box 9, Nassau, DE 19969. One of the services his company provides
is a seminar on the proper installation of HUD code housing.)
If you are in the business of setting up manufactured housing,
this article is meant to scare you into taking action on a safety
policy. There are some facts that we, in the industry, need to
face. You should begin with a little self-examination to give
you an idea of exactly where you stand in the field of safety
in manufactured housing installation.
HOW SAFE ARE YOU AND YOUR CREW?
- 1. How many people per year in your state are hurt, disabled
or killed installing manufactured housing? Take some time on
this one. Find out for sure by calling Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) or the state manufactured housing
association. You will probably find this information hard to
come by. These accidents may well be grouped in a category called
"other" along with swimming pools and playground equipment
installers. If you do find that number, compare it to the number
of people working in that part of the industry in your state.
West Virginia, for instance, has an average of three fatalities
per year. This works out to about 1 man for every twenty set-
up crews per year. And there are probably many more major injuries.
- 2. Do you take any special steps strictly for the purpose
of safety? Do you have meetings with your employees about safety?
Do you give them any special training? Do you have any special
equipment, such as cribbing that is used strictly for the purpose
of making the workplace safer?
- 3. Do you share safety procedures you may have developed
with anyone else in the industry? Do you ever get together with
other installers, perhaps at your state association, and discuss
the topic of safety?
- 4. If OSHA dropped by, would you measure up? Do you know
about the fines OSHA can impose? Do you know what they would
be looking for?
- 5. Do you know what a lawsuit costs? Millions! If you have
enough insurance, it probably will protect you, but it will be
reflected in the premiums for all of us. They also take 5-7 years
- 6. If one of your employees was permanently disabled or killed,
what could you tell his family, his family lawyer, or especially
yourself, that you had done to try and prevent this accident?
These are tough questions. Don't kid yourself about the answers.
If you've been in the business any length of time, you surely
have had some close calls and you also are familiar with fatalities
or permanent disablements that have happened in your area. Do
you know of any that could not have been prevented? What steps
have you taken to be sure the same thing doesn't happen to you
or your crew?
There is a distinction between responsibility and safety. The
factory that makes the home should be responsible for making a
home that is not dangerous to set-up. If the frame requires a
jacking plate, it should be the factory's responsibility to tell
you so. If they are aware of some design in the home which requires
a special procedure so that it can be done safely during normal
set-up, they should be responsible for informing the people who
have to do it.
Manufacturers of jacking and rolling equipment should be responsible
for making that equipment safe to use. They should be responsible
for informing the user of this equipment of any precautions he
must take with this equipment.
Because of the nature of the business, it has to be the set-up
crews own responsibility to keep itself safe from harm. Safety
should be the major consideration of the person who has the most
to lose, and who can lose more than their life or the use of their
A manufacturer may or may not be responsible for the failure
of a piece of equipment, but it is the crews' responsibility to
be sure that if such a situation arises, that their safety is
assured. You take a chance every time you go under a home. Only
the crew doing the work can determine the odds of an accident.
No one is there to do the work safely except them. A crew can
drastically shift the odds in their favor by using back- up systems
wherever they can. It has been my sad task to investigate many
of these types of accidents, and I offer the following suggestions.
Take time to think about safety. I know time is money, but
money will not buy you a new spinal cord, nor bring you back to
life. It is definitely worth at least one hour a week. You will
be amazed at what you come up with if you can get your crew to
think about the problem and discuss it freely among themselves
in an open and candid meeting, if only in the truck on the way
to the job. "Did this company conduct any safety training,"
is one of the very first questions asked by OSHA when they are
investigating an accident. One thousand to seven thousand dollar
fines and higher are quite common. In the case of a Delaware man,
the fine was paid by his widow because he was killed on the job
and she was co-owner of the company.
Be sure every jack has a suitable foundation. When the ground
is soft, it's easy for a 4" concrete block to break under
the pressure of a jack. Give the foundation under the jack as
much or more consideration as you would give the foundation under
the home you are setting. Even though it is very temporary, you
do not want that jack to move. Did you know that the steel head
of the jack resting on the steel frame takes very little outside
force to make it slip? Use a jacking plate. Make your own or buy
one commercially. It should consist of a U-shaped piece of metal
3/16" thick or more that will fit snugly around the I- beam
and has a lip of at least 3/8". The underside of this U-shaped
piece of metal should have a shallow cup arrangement capable of
holding the head of the jack. With the use of such a device, it
becomes nearly impossible for the jack to slip off the frame.
The cup arrangement holds the jack and the U-channel holds the
frame. The jack is practically locked to the home. If the jack
is sitting on a foundation which is level, stable, and strong
you should all but have eliminated any possibility of problems
with jack slippage.
Keep your equipment in good repair. Why should a jack have
to fail before you send it off to be rebuilt? Keep a record on
jacks and other equipment and do regular preventative maintenance.
You have to take care of it, if you want it to take care of you.
The use of cribbing when anyone is underneath the home is the
most basic safety precaution a person could take. There should
be stacks of cribbing under the home that have nothing else to
do but catch the home if it should fall, and they should be located
within a very few inches from the frame they are expected to catch.
Most homes, when they fall, do not come straight down. Many times,
they twist on one end equal to the height of the jack that is
holding them up. If a jack is three feet in the air, it's possible
that the home could land three feet to the left or right of wherever
it began. If you are using a small cribbing pile that's only half
way between the ground and the frame, there's a strong possibility
it would miss the entire thing when it fell. Keep your cribbing
no more than one to two inches away from the frame, and move it
whenever it becomes more than a few inches off center of the frame
if you are sliding the home sideways.
Also think about what you are using for cribbing? Will it really
catch a home? If you choose wood or some other material that is
light, easy to handle, comfortable to use, you may be sacrificing
the strength you need to keep the home in the air. 4 x 4's made
out of yellow pine are not strong enough to catch a home after
it has travelled three or four inches if you stack them in a log
cabin style four foot square cribbing pile. Most people feel comfortable
with 6 x 6 oak about four feet long stacked three pieces to the
layer and with each layer 90 degrees to the last.
The length of the cribbing has to determine the height it can
be stacked. The higher it goes, the less stable it becomes. Tall
cribbing stacks can be just as dangerous as tall jacks when the
time comes for it to do its job. Keep your cribbing in good shape.
Constant movement in and out of the truck and bumping into other
pieces of cribbing will take the edges off it and cause it to
be rounded. Obviously a rounded piece of wood is not nearly as
stable as one that has square corners and flat sides. The taller
a cribbing stack gets, the more important it is that its base
be very stable. If you are building a relatively tall cribbing
stack on relatively soft ground, you will want to consider increasing
the surface area of the base in order to support the load it may
have to carry. You can do this by simply putting more pieces of
cribbing on the ground before you start going up.
Does your crew wear hard hats and steel-toed shoes? Today's
modern hard hat does not fall off your head like a plastic beanie.
They are lightweight, fairly comfortable in the heat, and have
an optional insulated liner to wear in the winter. More importantly,
when your head collides with the edge of an outrigger, the hat
will receive the gouge, not your scalp.
When you work with concrete blocks, it's always possible to
drop one on your foot. When that happens, you will be glad you
had the steel-toed shoes.
When you strip the plastic off the two sections of a multi-section
home in preparation for closure, do you pull out the nails and
pound any strapping flat that may be sticking out so that you
can't cut yourself? Generally, these homes will be located fairly
close together and when you are walking down the center of them,
you have all these jagged pieces of steel sticking out at you.
At least clean up the stuff that's as high as your head when you
are walking along the ground. It only takes a minute, but I've
seen people cut themselves so badly they had tendon and nerve
damage in their hand and couldn't work for months.
Whenever possible, lay on your back or on your side under a
home. Don't sit on your heels and knees any more than you absolutely
have to. Should something go wrong, and the home come down, you
could receive a severe back injury in that position. The home
doesn't even have to go all the way to the ground in order for
you to damage your spinal cord. You just can't bend that much
and that could mean a wheelchair for the rest of your life.
Keep the track of your roller assembly clean and clear of small
stones. A stone half the size of a pea will stop the rollers dead
in their tracks.
If you are using a come-along to pull the two halves together,
you now have the possibility of pulling the home off the jacks.
There are dozens and dozens of other safety tips, if we only
gave safety the thought it deserved, we would save ourselves a
lot of pain and suffering. If you stay in the installation business
long enough, there will come a day when the opportunity for disaster
will occur. You will immediately be placed in one of two very
distinct categories: the people who took adequate safety precautions
and the people who wished to God they had.