Injuries From Installing Drywall Can Be Prevented
Drywall installers and carpenters who lift, carry or hold drywall sheets may be at risk of falling and overexertion hazards, usually involving the back, according to research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which recently released recommendations on how to reduce these injuries.
Installing drywall can cause injuries to the back, including strains, sprains or tears ranging from minor to severe, NIOSH says, and the agency has also found that lifting heavy sheets of drywall — which can range in weight from 55 to 120 pounds and vary in thickness — poses a risk of back pain.
Fall-related injuries during drywall installation can occur when workers lose their balance when handling the sheets or by other occurrences, such as falling from stairs. Poor lighting and a wet or slippery work floor, along with the sheets obstructing peripheral vision, can also be responsible for accidents.
Many workers don’t have strong enough hands to grip drywall without exposing themselves to the risk of an overexertion injury, NIOSH adds, and this is exacerbated by cold and wet conditions. But even strong workers using good installation techniques can sustain injuries over time when they are installing drywall by hand.
NIOSH cites three case studies:
- Stepping up to his drywall bench with a 12-foot-long, 120-pound drywall sheet, a carpenter slipped and fell forward, twisting and straining his knee, which swelled badly after work.
- A drywall carpenter developed tendonitis from lifting and carrying drywall sheets up the stairs. He had hung drywall earlier in the day and had lifted and carried 12 10-foot sections of drywall up 20 steps when he began to feel pain in his elbow.
- A drywall carpenter dislocated his shoulder after lifting and hanging multiple 16-foot-long, 125-pound drywall sheets on a ceiling. He and a partner lifted and carried each sheet from a pile, climbed onto their work platform and then lifted the sheet to the ceiling. The injury occurred while securing the eighth sheet of the day.
The following are recommended by NIOSH to prevent injuries while preparing and setting up for the job:
- Know the weight of the drywall sheet before starting the job and plan accordingly.
- Have forklifts, hand trucks, carts or dollies available to move drywall to work locations.
- Minimize the need to move the drywall sheets. For example, have them delivered to the place where they will be installed — not to a common area for building supplies.
- Make sure that stored materials do not create any safety hazards such as tipping.
- Use work practices that reduce the need for workers to install drywall by hand. For example, have a drywall lift or drywall jacks available at work sites when workers are working alone, installing larger or heavier sheets or installing ceilings.
The following precautions are recommended during the job:
- Make sure that workers are familiar with and use good lifting and installation techniques.
- Use PVC-dot grip gloves to reduce the grip force needed to lift, carry and hold drywall sheets.
- Bend the knees instead of the back when handling drywall.
- For vertical hanging in commercial buildings, raise the sheet, shift the grip to opposite sides of the sheet, then rotate the sheet into a vertical position and secure to the wall.
- Use two workers to lift larger, thicker and heavier sheets.
- Lift only one sheet at a time.
- Rotate hanging tasks and other installation tasks (making cutouts, taping, installing trim) and schedule frequent rest breaks to reduce overexertion hazards.
- Use a drywall lift or drywall jacks to place and hold a sheet for ceiling installation or to place heavier sheets.
- Use forklifts, hand trucks, carts or dollies to move drywall to convenient work locations. Use dollies to move sheets through narrow openings.
For information on safety and health resources available from NAHB, e-mail Rob Matuga, or call him at 800-368-5242.