Tag Archives: pole building safety

Construction Safety Trajedy

Sometimes Things Go Tragically Wrong

Construction safety is nothing to overlook. Even the most experienced among us can make errors (read a very personal story here: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2011/07/dont-take-a-fall/)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 an under construction building in Queenstown, Maryland had some challenges. Here is the story:

“Two construction workers were flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore for treatment after a building they were working on in Queenstown collapsed Tuesday, Sept. 8.

barn collapse The Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office, Queenstown Volunteer Fire Department, Queen Anne’s County Emergency Medical Services and Maryland State Police MedEvac responded Tuesday afternoon to 201 Overlook Drive, where the floor gave way in a pole barn-type structure under construction, according to the sheriff’s office. Five construction workers fell through the floor to the ground, police said.

Police said the structure is believed to be intended for personal use as a barn in a residential area.

 In addition to the two workers flown to Shock Trauma, a third worker was taken by ambulance to University of Maryland Shore Medical Center in Easton. The other two workers refused treatment, the sheriff’s office said.

 Maryland Occupational Safety and Health also responded. The scene was made safe by the county contractual building inspector, police said.

 The cause of the accident and the names of those involved were not released on Tuesday evening.”

To set the record straight, this particular building, while it may be a barn, is not a post frame (pole) type structure. The building framework is stick frame (stud walls) built upon a poured concrete foundation wall.

What happened here?

I spent a fair amount of my life in the metal connector plated prefabricated wood roof truss industry. Generally, if a truss is going to fail it is due to improper, or a lack of, truss bracing.

(Read more here: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2014/12/temporary-truss-bracing/)

Looking at the photos of this building, nowhere is any diagonal or X bracing evident which would have prevented the trusses from toppling over given the least amount of wind or vibration. I am frankly amazed they were able to get all of the trusses up and in place before the collapse.  The best I can see on the photos is minimal blocking between the trusses, which is totally inadequate given the height and weight of the trusses.

Don’t become the next tragedy we read about on the internet. Be safe, be smart, and use sound construction safety practices. And finally, follow sound building principles, thoroughly bracing as you go!



In the olden days, we were taught to look both ways before we went out in the street to play for the quarter dad offered us. Basically, we had personal responsibility – if we did something stupid, it was our own fault.

MSDS SheetMSDS is the Material Safety Data Sheet which actually is more than just another alphabet soup of letters. The intent is to give those who work with a product or emergency personnel the information for handling or working with a substance in a safe manner.

I first became acquainted with MSDS back when I was a post frame building contractor. We were big on safety and being compliant to the laws in effect. Every one of our subcontract assembly crews had a binder provided by us which included not only every applicable safety detail we could come up with, but also the appropriate MSDS information for products being handled.

Amazing to many folks, even pole buildings require MSDS sheets. Recently, a jurisdiction in New York asked for our MSDS sheets. It’s just a barn, so what could be so hazardous?

Consider anything which can be cut with a saw – lumber, steel, vinyl, cement based sidings, etc. When cut, they all produce dust, from which adequate precautions need to be taken to prevent injury. One of the sheets we were asked to produce was covering dust from sawn wood – what most of us think of as sawdust.

Another big safety concern is in regards to the chemicals used to pressure preservative treat lumber. MSDS information gives the guidance necessary to prevent personal injury and/or damage due to improper handling and treatment of the chemical products and their residue.

Insulation – any fibrous material (cellulose, fiberglass, etc.) can be a challenge as well.

Before beginning any construction project, ask for MSDS information on the products being incorporated into it. It is always best, in these instances, to err on the side of caution.

Pole Barn Security – Police Offer Tips To Prevent Theft

OK, I admit, at times I can be a bit “over-the-top” when it comes to pole buildings. I even get Google alerts for any stories which mention pole buildings! Nearly every day there is an alert about a pole building having been broken into. Pretty sad, when one thinks about it, as the concept of a new pole building is to protect those valuables.

Much of the information below is from a November 6, 2013 article written by Jim Hayden for The Holland Sentinel:

pole barn securityAlllegan County — Allegan County Sheriff’s Office deputies and the Michigan State Police are investigating several break-ins and thefts over the last few weeks in the northwest corner of the county. Areas in Laketown and Manlius townships have seen most of the thefts.

The suspects are taking items from pole barns and outbuildings. They most likely have a vehicle large enough to transport tools and equipment such as generators and air compressors.

 Now is a good time to conduct a pole barn security audit and inspect home security procedures, said Capt. Frank Baker of the sheriff’s office.

 “For example, if you have been putting off on buying or installing a motion sensor light on your pole barn, now would be a great time to complete that project,” he said in a press release.

 If you see any suspicious activity, call 911.

 The sheriff’s department has several tips to help secure pole barns:

 • Walk around your home and outbuildings in the daylight and check for items outside that someone could use to gain entry to a building, remove items people could use to climb in a window and trim back shrubs and landscaping to prevent people from concealing themselves.

• Walk around your pole building after dark and check areas for additional lighting, if current lighting is directed properly and if doors and windows are visible in the light.

 • Walk around the inside of your outbuildings to see if the windows are locked, if valuables are hidden and if you have recorded serial numbers or taken photos of valuables to assist in recovery if they are stolen.

• Other tips include adding deadbolt locks, asking neighbors to keep an eye on the property and watching for strange vehicles in the area. Don’t post your work schedule or vacation plans on social media.

Much of this is just common sense, but common sense isn’t always common – and far too often, action is delayed until too late – after there has been a break-in.

I Like Building Officials

For those of you who are not Building Officials, stop laughing, I am serious. Building Officials have a job – to protect those who use structures (which include buildings).

In Chapter 1 of the IBC (International Building Code), under Purpose of the code, it states, “This code is intended to provide minimum requirements to safeguard the public safety, health and general welfare through structural strength, means of egress facilities, stability, sanitation, adequate light and ventilation, energy conservation, and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment.”

How would you like it if this was your job description?

This is not an easy proposition, by any means. The IBC itself has been simplified to roughly 800 pages – which might be manageable, if it were not for the literally hundreds of other texts and documents which the building code now incorporates by reference!

There is just no possible way for any one person to know all of this information, and how it applies.

An example from just this morning: A Building Official from a township in Michigan was doing a review of the plans we had provided for one of our clients. This particular building has a design ground snow load of 25 psf (pounds per square foot). With a 6/12 roof slope, and the other appropriate factors applied, the roof live load is 18 psf. The building has a 29 gauge steel roof and 2×6 #2 roof purlins on edge spanning a distance of 11’ 7-1/2” from center of joist hanger to center of joist hanger.

In Chapter 23 of the IBC are provided basic tables for rafter spans, which the aforementioned official was attempting to apply to the roof purlins. While these tables may be handy as a reference for rafters in a “stick frame” type of construction with shingled roofing over sheathing, they just do not apply for the design of purlins.

The closest the official could get was a table with a 20 psf roof live load (11% higher than our case) and a 10 psf dead load (833% higher than actual). Using these much greater loads, the tables would only allow for a span of 11’7” with a spacing of 24 inches on center.

The Building Official contacted us, and we provided full calculations to justify the design as submitted. These calculations easily extend for over a full page, typed without spacing between lines. The calculations include footnotes as to the sources of all data and calculations, as a verification they are indeed correct and complete. Checked in them are strength in bending from snow, and wind loads. Also verified is… does the member meet shear and deflection criteria and the connection of the purlin to the trusses?  Yes, it does, calculations were provided.

Should the official have known enough structural engineering to have been able to calculate these himself? I think not, and even if he would happen to be a registered professional engineer (which most Building Departments do not have the luxury of having on staff), unless these were calculations he was performing on a daily basis – no.

The Building Official was doing due diligence in requesting backup information on something which just did not look quite right to him. From our aspect, we are always able to provide and glad to assist.

Pole Building Design: Do It Right

Pole Building Design: Do It Right

Stressed Pole Building

Logs as poles won't cut it

Old Pole Barn

Unfit Pole Barn Construction

The photos above and quote below are an actual posting on a discussion website I belong to:

“i got this late 60’s 102’x56′ pole barn/shelter.

The poles are set 11’center squire.

The purlins(nailed with 3 spikes each end)to the poles.
rafters are 2×6,4′ apart,then 1×8 boards across and metal roofing on top.
The highest part is 16′ feet high and runs the full 102’lenght. the roof there spans 22′ between the poles.(look at the dinky construction of the rafters)

I got between 1 and 2.5′ of snow on it now,i wonder how much it’ll hold before it’ll come south No deflection of rafters or purlins detected yet

My humble opinion was to donate the building to the local fire department, so it could be used for firefighting practice.

In discussions back and forth with the building owner, it turns out he has the snow manually removed from the roof of this building every single winter. Frankly, I am amazed the building will stand up under its own weight.

Buildings such as this one are why I am an advocate for every building having to have a building permit, and engineered plans having to be submitted in order to acquire a permit. This has nothing to do with me believing governments should restrict what an individual can do with one’s own property.  It is about the mandate of Building Departments to protect against potential loss of life from unsafe structures.

Just to give a broad overview of some of the potential structural issues with this building….

The “posts” are obviously just logs.  As such, they are untreated and have undergone no real “inspection” for structural defects.   Any wood in contact with the ground should be appropriately pressure preservative treated.  It would be nice if it was also graded according to acceptable grading standards.

To give the benefit of the doubt, we will assume the lumber used is all #2 Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) as it has the highest strength values of domestic softwoods available on a retail level.

The 2×12’s (“purlins”) which span 11’ and support rafters spanning 11’ are “only” about 30% overstressed, using a minimal snow load of 20 pounds per square foot. The three spikes at each end had better be big ones, as they need to support in excess of 1400 pounds of load (I’ll keep using the same above minimal snow load).

The 2×6 rafters spanning 11’ and four foot on center are more than 50% overstressed. (This just makes my heart beat faster!)

And the 22’ span which the building owner says, “look at the dinky construction of the rafters” is nothing short of frightening.  (Ok, I am never going near this building, much less into it.)

My real point, in all of this, is you have one chance to have a new building done right or wrong. “Saving” money, only to create a potential failure which could injure or kill you, or a loved one, or destroy the valuables which the building is meant to protect, is just not worth it. Make the choice to do it right.

Contact a reputable pole building kit supplier, where they do pole buildings every day, all the time.  Shop around and do comparisons on pole building design so you know you are getting what you paid for, and at a decent price. But more than anything, ask lots of questions so you know they are not “cheaping out”.  After all, it’s your building.  Your money.  And it darn well better be…your safety.

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