Steel and Safety




  • Steel has been an important building material since the late 1800s, when it replaced cast iron in the Chicago skyscrapers that were being built. Steel beams in concrete resisted fire better and were stronger structurally than cast iron. Steel is still considered to be the best choice for commercial construction even though iron and coal, the raw materials that go into steel, have become more expensive.

    Steel has become increasingly popular in residential building projects, especially in places where natural disasters such as earthquakes and tornadoes are common. The American Iron & Steel Institute says steel is a higher strength-to-weight ratio than any other construction material. Steel is also flexible enough to bend without breaking, which means it does well in high-wind situations. It also does a good job of absorbing energy under extreme conditions without being destroyed. As an example of how strong steel can be, General Steel built a steel building that successfully withstood Hurricane Katrina.

    Buildings made from steel are exceptionally strong and long-lasting, and it is also fire-resistant. The Steel Recycling Institute has determined that steel is the No. 1 choice in North America for buildings and infrastructure. It has a market share of almost 50% for multistory and nonresidential construction.

    Steel is just as strong after recycling as it was before. Businesses recycle more than 80 million tons of steel annually, making it the world’s most recycled material, and the steel industry has become a leader at implementing eco-friendly initiatives.

    Prefabricated steel structures, in particular, are safer for construction workers to build.

    • Building sites can be dangerous, but steel is usually worked at a manufacturing plant instead until late in the process and is therefore not subject to the effects and hazards of bad weather, especially wind, snow or rain. Work can also be done at night as well as during the day, since the manufacturing plants can stay lighted throughout the night if necessary. Manufacturing plants can also use automated and semi-automated machines, which means people are not at risk during otherwise dangerous procedures.
    • Metalwork at the site is reduced or eliminated and workers don’t have to do as much assembly work from the top of the structure. Injuries caused by re-positioning or moving components is reduced. Workers are less likely to have to work in an awkward position.
    • Summer or winter, extensive metalwork is unnecessary. Workers don’t have to roll, form, or shape steel at the site.

    On-site, it’s a good idea to hire highly skilled workers who have been certified in specialized areas or who are trained in just one discipline. They have the skills and knowledge to stabilize the framed steelwork construction even when the building is only partially complete, and the steel itself does an excellent job of withstanding any stresses from the construction.

    Steel was the right choice for buildings more than a century ago, and it is still a great choice for building today, especially when it is prefabricated.


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