Sub-Area Safety

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By Terry Brown, Chapter Relations

On an inspection last month I was making my way over to the sub-area access on the side of the house. The buyer’s agent was doing his visual inspection outside. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was walking and walked through a section of spider web. Unfortunately he was bitten on the arm by a black widow spider. What I witnessed next was shear panic. He tore off his shirt, trying to shake out the spider, then started running for the front of the house screaming about going to the hospital. Another agent and the buyer were up front. He managed to completely terrify both because they had no idea what this screaming man with no shirt wanted. Finally they figured it out and off to the hospital they went. He did survive the bite but managed to scare everybody on the job in the process. Being aware is your first defense in any safety situation. As inspectors we are trained to be aware of our surroundings and practice safety in our inspections. Keeping yourself safe and practicing safe inspection techniques has to be on your mind every time you step on a job.

Now let’s look at some basic safety tips for sub-areas. First, let’s start with protective clothing. Coveralls are recommended, something more water resistant is preferred because we have no idea what we may be crawling through and often times there are health hazards present. Sewer line leaks, rodent urine or feces, dead animals, termite insecticides, asbestos, bacteria, mold, standing water or mud are just a few. A hat, gloves, eye protection and a good mask or respirator are also recommended. Paper masks aren’t enough protection against some of the respiratory hazards, so a respirator with charcoal filters is highly recommended.

Second, keeping a first aid kit in your vehicle is another good practice. One with eye wash for the times you open an attic access and get insulation in your eyes. The use of an antibacterial hand sanitizer is another good habit to get into on a daily basis.

Third, if you are involved in a serious jobsite injury or get stuck in a tight spot and can’t notify someone for help, does anyone know where you are working? ALWAYS leave your jobsite addresses in a place easy to find by family members or other workers. This should be a top safety priority, but a lot of inspectors don’t do it. If no one knows where you are, help may not get to you in a timely manner.

Next, before entering the sub-area shine your flashlight through. If you see any eyes staring back at you, you better identify what kind of animal it is before entering. Possums, raccoons, and skunks are very nasty in close quarters, not to mention that raccoons are also the number one carrier of rabies. Then proceed all the way inside, do not stop halfway because the largest black widow spider in the sub-area is usually right over the crawl space access. To verify, crawl through, look back and see how often that spider is there. Snakes are sometimes present. The snakes I’ve encountered don’t run away from you like the rats do. They’re more curious and may come at you. Being armed with only a flashlight and camera, I’ve had to throw handfuls of dirt at them to get them to turn away so I could get out. O.K now we know to watch for all creatures from nature but there are plenty more hazards to overcome.

Electrical hazards need careful consideration. Exposed wiring in the framing or laying on the ground can be a shock hazard and can become deadly if any water is present. Do not enter an area with standing water. Even without the electrical hazards there may be biological hazards you don’t want to come into contact with.

Structural hazards are another concern. Fires from old floor furnaces, dry rot, flooding, and excessive termite damage can compromise the structural integrity of the subarea. Last year in the Sacramento area a termite inspector was crushed to death when a concrete porch collapsed on top of him. Do not enter areas that appear unsafe. Put it in the report with the reason you could not inspect that area.

The unknown is always a factor in inspection safety. The above mentioned items are just a short list of possible hazards. By educating ourselves on good safety practices and incorporating this knowledge into safe work habits, our chances of working in the inspection trade for years to come is greatly increased. Work safe, stay safe.