Project Reaches Million-Hour Mark With Built-In Safety Program

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CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training

Summary Statement

Oak Ridge Spallation Neutron Source Project logs 1 million man-hours without a lost workday, thanks to intensive safety program.

Project Reaches Million-Hour Mark With Built-In Safety Program CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training

Some construction contractors are achieving 1 million hours of work on major projects with no lost-workday injuries. In the process, Bechtel, Fluor Constructors, the Washington Group, and other companies are saving workers' lives and cutting costs.

One project, a $1.4 billion high-energy-research facility in Tennessee, in October completed 1.47 million hours without a lost workday. The 4.5-year construction of the Spallation Neutron Source, on 80 acres at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has passed the midpoint. The project for the U.S. Department of Energy is expected to save $3 million, 5% of its payroll insurance costs, on completion.

The approach requires a commitment to safety excellence before construction begins, an emphasis on safety from the top down every day, with training and certification for workers and supervisors, and recognition for safe work, said Stewart Burkhammer, former principal vice president and manager of corporate environmental, safety and health for Bechtel Construction, now director, Office of Construction Services, for OSHA.

More than 1,200 construction workers are killed by injuries on the job each year in the U.S., more than 194,000 are seriously injured, and an unknown number suffer long-term illnesses, such as lung diseases.

At the Oak Ridge project, there have been 6 recordable injuries, but none requiring time off, and the recordable injury rate in October 2002 was 1.18 (per 200,000 hours), said Richard Davis, project manager for Knight/Jacobs Joint Venture, architect-engineer-construction manager. This compares in 2000 with an average rate of 4.3 for companies having 1,000 or more employees and 8.2 for all construction.

"We set up [the safety program] during design," as many projects do, said Davis. For instance, the planning focused on work sequencing and designing structural steel with eyelets for safety lines.

Davis hired only contractors that had a good safety record. And, in writing in July 2000, he wrote potential contractors, "Environmental and safety issues will NEVER be compromised on."

The 30 contractors and more than 700 workers are reminded daily about safety.

One subcontractor, Steve Crawford, project manager at the site for Stewart Mechanical, which does sheet metal, plumbing, and pipefitting, said, "we just [feel] grateful, because we have lost people on projects. Those things that do cause hazards are being addressed practically every minute" – from vehicle speed on the site to housekeeping, which can help prevent slips and falls.

There is "considerable effort at promoting teamwork," said Jerry Hampton, a vice president of Avisco, a company that did site preparation, built both access roads without an injury, and is now doing utilities. "It's kind of a breath of fresh air."

Being inclusive "pays off," said Ray Whitehead, president of the Knoxville Building and Construction Trades Council. "Some other programs you have buy-in, but it doesn't trickle down to everybody else."

Training is most important, in Davis's view. Before starting work on the site, every worker gets site-specific orientation and training, with discussion of fall protection and personal protective equipment. The project requires certification for crane operators, qualification for operators of heavy equipment, and certification or training for competent persons, who oversee work.

Every worker attends a subcontractor's 10-minute toolbox talk at the start of each day. Each such plan-of-the-day safety meeting focuses on potential hazards and how to address them, while on other sites, a toolbox talk once every week or two might not focus on work being done at the time, said Whitehead, the union leader.

Every task has an SPA, a Safe Plan of Action. If a task changes three times in one day, Davis said, the crew meets 3 times to go over a new SPA.

Recognition comes in the form of lunches on site for the safe contractor and safe crew every month. Workers in such crews are given a camouflage baseball hat, a pocket knife, a penlight, a T-shirt.

Said Davis: "It's essential that we provide an environment that an employee comes to work and goes home the same way at the end of the day – except a little more tired."