The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

Planning, Execution and Construction Safety

February 15, 2012

By J. D. Slaughter, ECC Board Member

It has long been established that excellence in safety performance for any given project is the responsibility of everyone associated with that project. We talk about taking personal responsibility for our actions, taking responsibility for watching over our immediate co-workers, taking the time to look over the project and identify areas of concern, following proper procedures, using the right tool for the job, etc. We also talk about stop work authority, which is empowering every employee to stop any action perceived to be unsafe.

Be honest; how many of you read the above statement and thought I was only referring to employees physically working on the construction site? I suggest that every project participant can positively or negatively affect the performance of construction safety.

It is true that the responsibility for the planning and execution of a construction project falls on the shoulders of the construction firm. I know that well. Most construction firms have the systems, processes, tools, experience, personnel and culture to plan and execute safely. And it has been said that the mark of a great construction firm is not only the ability to plan the work well but to also adjust to the variability that usually accompanies any project, especially in today’s “fast track is the new normal track” environment. Unfortunately, it is often during that project variability that people get hurt.

Why is that? Why would variability lead to incidents? Most construction firms plan well in advance of the work, so why would there even be variability?

Most construction firms employ a 3 or 4 week look-ahead plan, and each craft discipline employs a detailed work packaging system that provides the information and drawings necessary to complete the work. Each crew should know their job assignment well in advance of the day they are to perform the work. Every morning, specific Job Safety Analysis (JSA) and Safety Task Analysis (STA) are completed by the crew to ensure proper mental focus of all involved immediately prior to the work. Crew workers then fan out to acquire the tools, material and equipment that have been planned to accompany this work. Work is then started.

The “construction machine” is humming along smoothly until a problem arises: a spool of pipe does not fit; a piece of vendor equipment does not fit the foundation; an instrument did not come with the right transmitter, etc.

The crew is stopped, and an RFI (request for information) is generated. Meanwhile, the planner and/or foreman quickly implement an alternate course of action to the plan.

While the RFI is being processed and answered, the crew then starts to proceed on this new work. It begins with reworking or revising the JSA and STA, possibly proceeding to acquire new tools, materials or equipment for the alternate plan.

During this process, and especially if this is the norm rather than the exception, interest and focus of the crafts worker can diminish and mental mistakes occur. And too often, the sole focus of the incident investigation will be on that mental lapse and not the aforementioned issues leading up to the incident. I like to refer to the amount of these types of interruptions on the project site as the “noise” of the site. The more “noise” a site has, the less likely anyone can work and think effectively. The “noisier” the site, the more likely someone will get hurt.

Construction is at the end of a systematic or gated process that begins with idea generation and culminates with the plant start-up. Each decision sets off a chain of events that lead to further decisions and so on. Therefore, reflect on your role in the delivery of capital projects and how your decisions can affect construction and safety.