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Field Test Best Practices: A Resource for Practical Residential Building Science

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Field Work Safety Awareness

Field tests take researchers out of laboratories and into realistic settings for evaluating new technologies. Field tests are valuable since they introduce the variability of a real building, which is the same reason that researchers should be aware of the potential safety hazards. The following safety topics should be considered when planning or executing a field test. 

Site Assessment

Site assessment is the first step to ensure safety on a field test. Remembering some simple guidelines will help a field test go smoothly and safely. Be prepared for the work and give yourself enough time. Being rushed or unprepared leads to unsafe decisions and behavior. Develop a checklist of tools, equipment, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that you will need and bring these items to the job site. Ensure you have a means to initiate emergency service – Cell phone (with coverage), satellite phone, radio, etc.

Construction Site Safety

Field tests focused on new construction will likely be started during the construction phase. Construction Sites have unique and always changing hazards. When on a construction site, be sure to obtain a site briefing before entering a construction area. Maintain a heightened sense of awareness of your surroundings. Always wear the minimum PPE that is required for the construction site, which includes safety glasses with side shields, hard hat, safety boots, and potentially a high visibility vest (site specific).

Ladder Safety and Fall Protection

Ladders are commonly used in residential field tests and are a great tool, but they must be used properly to avoid injury - 17% of all fatal falls are from ladders. Always ensure that the ladder is placed on a firm, level surface. Keep area clear of hazards and traffic. Inspect ladder for cracks, bends, or corrosion before use. Keep three points of contact when on a ladder. Face ladder when going up and down.

There are certain conditions when additional fall protection is needed: when working at heights ≥4 feet for general industry or at heights ≥6 feet at a construction site and when working within 10 feet from a roof's leading edge.

Asbestos Safety

Asbestos is a mineral that forms long fibers that can be very harmful if inhaled or ingested. Asbestos was used in many products found in older homes. Facilities built after 1988 have a low probability of containing asbestos. Do not disturb any material that may contain asbestos until it can be verified otherwise.

Confined Space Safety

A confined space is defined as a space configured in a manner that an individual can bodily enter and perform work AND is not designed for continuous employee occupancy AND has limited or restricted means for entry or exit. There are two types of confined spaces: Permit required and non-permit required. A permit required confined space contains or has the potential to contain a serious hazard, such as oxygen deficiency. A non-permit required confined space does not contain any serious hazards but should be constantly monitored for changes.

Electrical Safety and Lock Out/Tag Out

Since many field tests in residential buildings are focused on the electrical energy consumption of a house or an appliance within the house, electrical safety is an important consideration. No work should be done on a live electrical panel or circuit. Lock out/Tag out (LO/TO) procedures should be followed to ensure the panel or circuit of interest is de-energized and cannot be re-energized while work is being done. Don’t forget to verify that you’ve controlled all energy sources – try to turn things on, check voltages, etc.PPE must be worn for the zero energy check, before any work is done, just in case energy is still present.

LO/TO should also be employed with all other sources of hazardous energy that may be present, including electrical, mechanical, gravity, compressed gas, pneumatic, hydraulic, or chemical energy.

Sulfur Hexafluoride Safety

Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) is a gas sometimes used in tracer gas testing. It is odorless, non-flammable, non-toxic and not naturally occurring, which makes it a good candidate for tracer gas tests. However, it does have asphyxiation potential and is a very powerful greenhouse gas, so there are some safety considerations to keep in mind when working with SF6. The work area should be continually ventilated. The quantity of gas should be limited by only using lecture size cylinders – 0.14 ft3 compressed, 3.4 ft3 expanded.