April 2013

1,000,000 Man Hours, No Injuries

In January, ironworkers celebrated 40,000 injury-free man-hours at Kiewit’s Marsh Landing Generating Station project. Our success is just one small part of a larger story—the story of a contractor who invests heavily in safety, planning and housekeeping for every worker involved on every one of their projects.

MARSH. “Mitigate And Remove Safety Hazards.” The words emblazon the top of a bland page in a pocket-sized spiral pad.

But the page’s content is anything but bland. A cursory glance at the oblong paper reveals a list of eye-catching headings. “Crush Points,” “Access,” “Housekeeping” and so on. Under each heading, the concise, no-nonsense questions, “What can hurt me today?” and “What am I going to do about it?” Just below, running the width of the page, three thick, black lines demand thoughtful answers.

“They’re short and precise. They make you take a second to think about how you may get hurt so you can avoid potential hazards,” explains Eric Johanson, a Kiewit construction manager at the Marsh Landing Generating Station (MLGS) in Antioch, Calif.

“MARSH Minutes,” as the project team nicknamed the “Mitigate and Remove Safety Hazards” forms, represent a small but ever-present component of Kiewit’s impeccable attention to safety at MLGS. At 3 inches by 5 inches each, an ironworker can slip the documents into his back pocket and refer to them throughout the day to remind him of the site’s exacting approach to safety.

Project managers there may as well have shortened “MARSH” to “MAR”: “Mitigate and Remove.” Because as of January 2013, safety inspectors had identified no “Safety Hazards” to speak of.

Kiewit counts 40,000 injury-free man-hours for ironworkers and more than a million for all the building trades on the job. As Eric brags on Kiewit’s safety success, his voice doesn’t even crack with excitement—which reveals volumes about the attitude on the site. In fact, Kiewit adheres to safety protocol so stringently that projects with spotless safety records are an imperative.

Kiewit’s success comes down to an extreme—but much-needed—“culture of safety,” according to Chris Derrico, an ironworker foreman representing Local 378 (Oakland, Calif.). “You’ve never seen a jobsite in America this clean. There’s nothing on the ground, no tripping, no twisted ankles.” A quick consultation of any MARSH Minute confirms that Kiewit pays especially close attention to tripping hazards. Next to “Housekeeping,” “Tripping” appears in smaller, yet prominent text so craftsmen don’t overlook the important category when pondering their response to “What can hurt me today?”

Chris continues, rattling off a well-rehearsed—and probably often-repeated—refrain: “Cleanliness, planning and the JHA.” These, he says, are the keys to one million injury-free man-hours.

Periodically, but never less than once per week, foremen gather their crews to develop a JHA, or “Job Hazard Analysis” by asking workers to list what tools they’ll need on the job and to write out, step-by-step, the tasks they will perform. The second page of the JHA contains the “meat” of the list, according to Chris: What’s most likely to get workers hurt, what might affect them during any given step of their activities.

An example of good housekeeping, the JHA guides workers to identify their most important activities well in advance of actually performing them. “You need to take personal responsibility,” says Eric. “We have really good general foremen who understand this, and who remind their guys that if they need something different than what we’re providing to stay safe, dude, stop what you’re doing.”

So dedicated to safety were Kiewit’s managers, and so zealous were they in regard to planning, they went so far as to publish “task packages,” which serve to “guide any major operations by breaking down the steps of the construction in writing, along with drawings and safety plans,” says Chris.

He explains, “Instead of workers having to go into an operation and figure everything out by themselves, most of the critical thinking has been done.”

For example, if a worker is hoisting a conex (construction industry jargon for a “large shipping or storage container”), he may refer to the published “task package” specific to that activity. “So he would know that step one is to gather rigging, step two is to inspect, and so on,” Chris says. Drawings and pictures are included, and they can be simple or complex, depending on the simplicity or complexity of the job at hand. “The important thing is to illustrate a plan that can be safely carried out. Stop, assess, think about what could get you hurt, and then you go and do your task in a way that would be the safest way to do it.”

Kiewit is gracious about their safety record, citing worker buy-in as a large part of the program’s success. “I work with ironworkers on every project, and I’ll be honest with you. They have so much pride in what they do, they have a hard time buying in to new ways of working,” says Robert Stormo, Kiewit’s project safety director at the Marsh Landing project. “But after they realized that we were here to work as a team and not just giving them lip service, the ironworkers were instrumental in leading this project and making sure we maintained a safe and productive jobsite.”

The sheer size and complexity of the MLGS project—and the speed at which construction workers are building the job—make Kiewit’s safety record look all the more impressive.

With four towering exhaust stacks already shadowing the jobsite as of January 2013, it’s hard to believe that just a year and a half ago, nothing but a layer of light brown dust covered the lot where hundreds of workers now tend to the MLGS.

Throughout 2011, engineers agonized over site sequencing to ensure that electrical duct banks and pipework flowed together with the existing infrastructure surrounding the MLGS plant. Nestled on the banks of the San Joaquin River, MLGS squats next to the Contra Costa Power Plant and lays just a stone’s throw across the water from a sprawling wind farm. Indeed, coordination was vital for the MLGS, which consists of four 190-megawatt Siemens simple cycle gas turbine units. The “quick start” plant—that can reach peak electricity production in less than 20 minutes—makes use of existing infrastructure, including natural gas and transmission lines connecting to PG&E sources.

By the end of 2011, construction had begun to progress at lightning speed. The safety record remained flawless.

“When I arrived in May 2011, we were just beginning concrete work, work underground and driving piles,” says Eric.

And that’s right about the time Kiewit flung the project into high gear.

From April 2011 until October 2011, the job peaked at 500 craftsmen, clocking nearly 75,000 man-hours a month. “Working at a high level for 5 to 6 months without any recordable injury is hard work,” Eric explains. Not to mention the simultaneous expansion of workers, general foremen, stewards and superintendents. “The expansion posed a challenge, but we all stayed on the same page. It was a real team effort.”

Even under the looming towers, and after millions of man-hours and mind-bogglingly complex arrays of electrical infrastructure, safety remains the most impressive—and crucial—success at MLGS.

“We want to be safe on the job. And it really is nice to work for a company who cares about the guys the way Kiewit does. Everything else is second to that,” Chris says.

Eric also tips his hat to Chris and the ironworkers for their leadership and commitment to safety. “Having Chris on board was vital. Ironworkers really believe in him, and they trust him.”

While Chris admits that Kiewit’s strict attention to safety may cost more up front, the precautions save money in the long run. “It should be common practice for contractors to give owners two bid numbers,” Chris says. “The number it would cost without the highest in safety precautions…and a second number factoring in a death or a severe injury.” That would certainly get any owner’s attention.

Kiewit didn’t have to provide two bid numbers. After all, they prioritized safety on the jobsite, starting with “housekeeping” and the 3 x 5 spiral-bound notepads stuck in every craftsman’s back pocket.