T[span style="letter-spacing: -0.1px;"]wenty-five kilometres of six-lane roadway. Twenty-seven bridge structures. Nine interchanges. Two rail flyovers. And one road flyover. The Southeast Stoney Trail in Calgary is the single largest highway project in Alberta’s history. The $769-million project spans three years and is a public-private partnership with the Alberta Government and Chinook Infrastructures (a joint venture between Acciona S.A. and SNC-Lavalin).
[/span]The project began in 2010 and there have been at least 35 contractors with about 2,700 workers, supervisors and consultants working on the project.
A project of this size and nature has many occupational health and safety (OHS) considerations.
“The challenge they’ve had is it’s not been the same workforce for the three-and-a-half years — that’s the nature of construction,” says Gary Lamb, urban construction manager at Alberta Transportation in Calgary.
“(OHS) is a more difficult challenge than it is in a plant environment where you have long-term employees who are working in the same areas all the time, rather than in different areas on a day-to-day basis.”
As part of their bid on the project, Acciona and SNC-Lavalin had to submit their health and safety plan which included an outline of safety processes, procedures and training materials. They also needed to demonstrate they have the resources required to oversee health and safety on the entire project. Chinook has four OHS professionals on the project.
When it comes to selecting contractors, Chinook expects a similar health and safety plan from bidding companies.
“It’s a cultural aspect they build right into the contracting process. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the cost-effective thing to do as well,” says Dan MacLennan, executive director of the Alberta Construction Safety Association (ACSA) in Edmonton. “Anyone who didn’t have the highest possible standard of safety won’t even make it through to the bed list.”
On projects of this size, the general contractor would also likely be looking for the certificate of recognition (COR) from the bidding companies, says Tammy Hawkins, manager of learning services at ACSA. The certificate is awarded to employers who develop health and safety programs that meet established standards. COR has become the standard across the province for hiring anyone to work on the major commercial or industrial projects.
All workers, consultants, supervisors and experts that come onto the project receive a basic health and safety orientation. With such a wide variety of companies and individuals coming onto the project — and staying for different lengths of time — Chinook looks at exactly what role they are playing and tailors the learning to fit their needs, says Kevin Hayes, manager of corporate safety at Acciona Infrastructure Canada in Vancouver.
“They may be very specific to earthworks, concrete pouring, laying of rebar so you really have to judge your audience,” he says. “You may have a rocket scientist among the group and there could be someone who dropped out of school at the age of 13, so it’s really being respectful of what they’re doing on the project and working with them.”
Before workers can step on to a construction site, there is a lot of training required. For starters, every single piece of equipment requires training, says MacLennan.
“Different Cat (vehicles) or road-building equipment, every one of those has someone sign off and make sure people know what they’re doing before they turn the machine on,” he says. “Ensure when new things are introduced to the site that they’re done in a proactive way with safety at the front of workers’ minds.”
Working at heights is important training for some of the contractors that have employees working in manlifts between 10 feet and 40 feet up in the air, says Hayes.
“They’ll be getting near unprotected edges so they need to be tied-off, so you need to have systems in place for that,” he says. “You have to have training for workers to make sure they understand the use of a harness, lanyard, what’s going to protect them from falling.”
Confined space training is also important for individuals on this project because it included catch basins, manholes, “tie-ins” with live storm sewers and restricted spaces.
“Entry into a confined space can be considered one of the deadly sins related to OH&S,” says Hayes. “Several issues have to be considered, specifically rescue and the possibility of gases that may seep into the area or be created by the work process.”
Workers also need training on working around utilities (both overhead and buried), WHMIS, environmental issues and respirator use.
There is a lot of onus on contractors to ensure their workers have the right training certification and that equipment operators have the tickets they require, says Hayes. He requires copies of certificates for mobile equipment (such as manlifts, cranes, excavators and scrapers), confined space entry and competent persons for excavation inspections.
Ultimately, ensuring workers have the right training and certificates is the responsibility of the prime contractor — which is Chinook Infrastructures in this case. Under Alberta legislation, the “prime contractor” has the legal responsibility for ensuring that everyone participates and does their part in health and safety on the site, says Hawkins.
[span style="letter-spacing: -0.1px;"]“Their job is to oversee the health and safety management system with all levels of employees,” she says. “If there is a situation where they feel it is not up to standard, then they would work with that contractor to bring them up to standard.”
One of the biggest hazards on a project like this is mobile equipment, says Hayes. The Stoney Trail has seen a number of contractors working with well over 100 pieces of earth-moving equipment.
“The fact is the equipment has the right of way, so whether you’re driving your vehicle or supervisor’s vehicle on the project, that equipment is thousands and thousands of pounds of force and if you get in the way of that, there’s not a lot of chance of survival or coming out without a serious injury,” says Hayes.
One way Chinook works to eliminate this hazard is by having plenty of signage and speed limits on the site.
The weather conditions can also pose many challenges since the project runs year-round. In the winter, workers are battling the cold and are sometimes working at -35 C, says Hayes. There are issues with ice, snow, traction, hypothermia and frostbite.
“You’re bundled up more, you’re just not as nimble, one would say, so there’s the potential that accidents could happen,” says Lamb. “You have to be more conscious of your footing; driving is even more of a hazard because the site is frozen and it’s slippery, and the terrain is more uneven.”
During these months, Chinook ensures workers are educated on taking downtime and keeping warm. In the summer, there are some extremely hot days and it’s important for the workers to stay hydrated and be educated on heat exhaustion.
With a project of this nature, hazards to workers change over time. The project has gone from being a green field in some areas to a full-on heavy construction site over the past three years.
[span style="letter-spacing: -0.1px;"]“Where there’s a grading operation at the start of the project, you’re worried about heavy equipment going back and forth. But as we start to build bridges, then you have overhead hazards, and as the project gets into the completion stage and there are electrical contractors on site,
suddenly you might have power lines or underground cables that weren’t there before,” says Lamb.[/span]
Traffic accommodation can also be a concern, especially when the project is nearing the end, says Hayes. The ACSA has been doing a lot more training around traffic control than they used to, as it is a pretty high-risk area for workers, says Hawkins.
Every day, contractors need to complete a field-level hazard assessment. This may include environmental factors, such as rain or snow, as well as what work is going on around them. Then they need to communicate these hazards to workers, which is done during a daily meeting at the beginning of each shift. It also covers what measures have been put in place to guard against the hazards and what personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed.
“It’s significant when workers arrive in the morning that they’re aware of what environment they’re working in,” says Hawkins.
Every day, the contractors need to send a report of the hazard assessment and the daily meeting to Chinook.
Once a week, Chinook or the contractors will do a “toolbox talk” which discusses a specific hazard that has been found on the project or that workers might run into. Some toolbox talks have been around speed limits, working at heights and using cellphones on the site.
The contractors send a report to Hayes outlining the hours worked, number of people on site, the toolbox talks as well as accidents, incidents and medical information every month. One of Hayes’ staff members pulls together that information and creates a safety report for the management of the project and the client (Alberta Transportation) — which also receives an annual report.
Chinook plays the role of safety enforcement. It conducts daily inspections and more formal weekly inspections on the site.
“No one likes to be heavy handed and say, ‘I’m going to reprimand you’ but sometimes someone needs to be made an example of for word to get around the project: ‘You know, Bob got written up today for not wearing his harnesss,’” says Hayes.
The project has been well-run and the number of incidents have not been abnormally high for a project of this size and scale, says Lamb. The most common incidents have been slips and falls, which are pretty common on construction sites, says Hayes.
While there have not been any fatalities, there have been a couple serious incidents where people were in a position they shouldn’t have been and something fell on them or they got pinched between a piece of equipment, says Hayes. When these more serious incidents occur, there is a full investigation by the contractor and Chinook to determine what happened and how it happened. It’s important to determine not only the direct cause, but any number of indirect causes there may have been.
“The direct cause was the person was standing where he shouldn’t have been, but the indirect causes were a lack of training, lack of communication, lack of procedures and if you think of Swiss cheese, the holes never line up, but when they do, accidents happen,” says Hayes.
It’s important to implement corrective action to prevent the incident from happening again, says Hawkins.
Everything surrounding the incident and its outcomes needs to be communicated to employees. This is one area companies in the construction industry have really improved upon over the past 10 years, says MacLennan.
“Communication post-incident is essential, otherwise you’re guaranteed to have it re-occur and it’s your opportunity as an employer to demonstrate how seriously you take it,” he says.
Role of leadership
Leadership plays a central role in ensuring health and safety procedures are adhered to among workers on construction sites. Without leadership, there’s nothing in terms of safety, so the leaders really need to be waving that safety flag, says Hawkins. If a leader is not waking the talk and adhering to site safety rules, staff won’t either, says Lamb.
“If I’m not wearing the proper protective gear or misbehaving, it doesn’t help anybody on a construction project,” he says. “Management staff has to be seen as playing by the same rules.”
The construction industry has “made some really good strides” around creating a culture of safety, says Hawkins. Companies are increasingly investing more time, money and resources to ensure workers are safe.
“We see the requirement for safety growing on construction sites,” says MacLennan. “More companies are accepting the importance of safety and the most successful companies have the strongest culture toward safety.”
© Copyright Canadian Occupational Safety, HAB Press. All rights reserved.
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