Pre-fabricated Drywall Pieces

Using pre-fabricated drywall pieces reduces health and safety risks associated with installing and finishing drywall.

Description:

Using pre-fabricated drywall pieces is a prevention through design (PtD) process that addresses worker health and safety risks associated with cutting, installing and finishing drywall by eliminating much of the onsite work with pre-finished drywall pieces that are ready for installation.  With these products, joints and corners are fabricated off-site and delivered to the project site.  Consequently, the contractors and the fabricators must determine where the drywall seams will fold and fit per the project specifications.  Once they are ready to be installed, hot glue is placed between the seams, folded and dried before achieving its final form (figure 1).


Figure 1.  Assembled pre-fabricated drywall piece.  (Source: CPWR The Center for Construction Research and Training)


Risks Addressed:

This process can help avoid numerous musculoskeletal (MSDs) injuries.  During the installation of drywall, workers can spend a lot of time manually cutting drywall to specific shapes and dimensions.  This can require awkward and repetitive manual material handling.  Manipulating materials during this process can cause injury to muscles, nerves, discs and ligaments of the neck and upper extremities.  Repetitive lifting of drywall can lead to low back strain, ligament sprain, a bulging or herniated disc, or other back problems.
 
Manual sanding can also lead to other MSD injuries.  Manual sanding requires stressful hand and wrist exertions. Stressful hand and wrist activities can cause muscle strains; tendonitis, which is inflammation of elbow and wrist tendons; or carpal tunnel syndrome, which is compression of a wrist nerve, resulting in finger numbness and loss of hand strength. Sanding ceilings requires overhead work. Overhead work can cause shoulder muscle strains; tendonitis, which is inflammation of the tendons; or rotator cuff tears, which is a rupture of a shoulder tendon.
 
Dry manual (hand) sanding drywall, joints, painted and other wall and ceiling surfaces can generate levels of total and respirable dust that exceed recommended limits. Inhaling dust can cause irritation and over the long-term cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Drywall and joint compounds that contain silica can also result in exposures to levels of respirable crystalline silica that may exceed exposure limits.  Silica dust may cause silicosis or lung scarring with prolonged exposure. Silicosis is an incurable, sometimes fatal, disease. Exposure to silica also causes lung cancer and other lung diseases including COPD and tuberculosis and has been linked to renal disease and rheumatoid arthritis. A  NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE), for example,  found that drywall sanders were exposed to as much as 10 times the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 15 mg/m3 for total dust set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The OSHA PEL for respirable dust (5 mg/m3), the very small particles that can go deep into the lungs, was also exceeded.
 
Workers installing drywall can also include safety risks of cuts from using manual saws or operating powered saws.

How Risks are Reduced:

Pre-fabricated drywall pieces are created off-site specific to project requirements.  Thus, this eliminates the manual labor of transporting multiple pieces from cutting area to on-site installation, which in turn also eliminates the handling of cutting tools and equipment.  Further, using perfectly formed pre-fabricated drywall pieces, especially for angles and corners, eliminates the need to manually sand, patch and finish thereby minimizing the risk for dust generation.

Safety and health experts believe that minimizing forceful hand and wrist exertions may reduce the risk of injuries to the hand and wrist.  Installing finished drywall may reduce stressful hand and wrist activities associated with manual drywall sanding by eliminating the need to use manual sanding tools to remove excess drywall mud.

Safety and health experts also believe that minimizing overhead work may reduce the risk of shoulder injuries. Svendsen and colleagues reported that working with arms elevated above the shoulders increased the risk of shoulder pain and inflammation of tendons in the shoulder (Svendsen et al. 2004). Installing finished drywall may reduce the amount of overhead work during ceiling drywall sanding when the tool is used with the support harness. 


Effects on Productivity:

Per one manufacturer, Standard Drywall Inc., productivity is achieved by the reduction of labor time from installing finished profile... "making the project ready for paint earlier."


Additional Considerations:

While this process does address many issues and hazards related to manipulating drywall, it may expose workers to hazards related to heavy lifting as the pre-manufactured pieces are heavier than the individual pieces.  Heavy lifting of the fabricated pieces can lead to low back strain, ligament sprain, a bulging or herniated disc, or other back problems.  Proper lifting techniques and mechanical lifting devices should be utilized.
 
In addition, finishing drywall may involve use of stepladders, baker scaffold or stilts to provide easier access to ceilings and wall areas out of the workers reach.  All of these can create significant fall hazards.  While the risk for falls will be reduced from drywall finishing tasks, workers are still required to install pre-fabricated drywall pieces in places of elevation.  Please adhere to proper fall prevention guidelines to ensure safety.

Contributors:

Jean Christophe Le - CPWR The Center for Construction Research and Training
Babak Memarian, PhD - CPWR The Center for Construction Research and Training
Bruce Lippy, PhD - CPWR The Center for Construction Research and Training

Availability

Standard Drywall Inc.
To obtain information, visit Pre-fabricated Trimless Drywall or contact 1-619-443-7034

Architectural Forms LLC
To obtain information, visit Prefab Drywall & Framing Products Applications or contact 1-201-289-5737 info@af-east.com

Return on Investment

To calculate the return on investment (ROI) for your specific application, please visit our Return on Investment Calculator. While a specific ROI example has not been developed for this particular solution, the ROI Calculator provides a useful tool and guidance on how to generate your own on investment analysis.