Steel reinforcing bars, or rebar, are a common hazard on construction sites. The thin steel bars can stick out from construction projects and pose a hazard to workers who can cut or scratch themselves on the sharp ends. Workers that stumble or fall onto the exposed steel bars can be pierced or impaled on them, resulting in serious internal injuries and death.

To protect workers from this hazard, Cal/OSHA requires that rebar and other projections on the worksite “be guarded to eliminate the hazard of impalement.” Guarding from rebar impalement hazards must be done when workers will be working around or at any height above exposed rebar. This also includes work situations where rebar is below grade or in a basement.

Start with fall prevention

Fall prevention methods such as guardrails and personal fall protection systems are the first level of protection for workers. These should be used any time workers are exposed to potential falls of ten feet or greater; a fall from any height can seriously injure a worker.

The next level of impalement protection is to use protective guard systems to cover the protruding ends. Steel reinforced rebar caps provide the strongest and best impalement protection for workers. Proper protective rebar caps should be at least four-inch square or, if they are round, they should have a 4 1/2-inch diameter.

Rebar caps

Some rebar caps are too narrow or not steel-reinforced. If a worker falls on a standard plastic cap, the impact pressure can push the rebar through the cap and impale the worker. Standard mushroom rebar caps and/or covers are only appropriate to prevent cuts, abrasions, or other minor injuries when workers are working at grade with rebar and when there is no impalement hazard.

Long 2 x 4 wood caps or other manufactured troughs can be used to effectively protect exposed rebar. Protective rebar caps and troughs must have passed a drop test of 250 pounds from 10 feet above to prove that they can protect against impalement. If you construct protective wood troughs on the job site, they should be built according to a registered engineer’s drawings (keep the plans on site), or to  Cal/OSHA specifications

Workers should be vigilant around exposed rebar ends. Fall prevention is the first defense and covered rebar ends are extra insurance against impalement in case of a fall. With the focus on safety and protected rebar ends, this is one safety point workers will be glad to miss.

The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations, or standards.