An energy company in the northeast asked us to visit one of their construction sites to recommend some secondary containment devices for various areas. This particular site will become a power generation plant in about three years when construction is complete. It is nestled in a quiet, wooded area that is adjacent to a large tract of land owned by the Sierra Club.
Ensuring Employee Safety
Because they didn’t want to disturb any more land than they needed to for construction, all of the offices (safety, environmental, maintenance, accounting, etc.) are at a remote location about two miles away. This is also where employees park to be shuttled to the construction site.
Safety begins at this off-site location. The shuttle drivers are tasked with making sure that each person entering the shuttle has an ID tag, steel-toed shoes, a hard hat, safety vest, safety glasses, earplugs or earmuffs and gloves. Equipping workers with these items before they enter the shuttle eliminates the need to store a lot of extra supplies at the construction site and minimizes the chance that someone does not have the safety equipment that they will need for the day.
It was interesting to see the decals and emblems on everyone’s hard hats as we rode to the construction site. Welders had stickers that signified various trainings and certifications. Employees who passed confined space training had different stickers designating them as confined space entry team members. Those with first aid training also had a sticker. Whatever the designation, each sticker was a circle with a pictogram and verbiage explaining what skill had been mastered to earn it. With more than 500 employees onsite each day, these stickers were a fast and effective way to determine if an employee had received the proper training for the tasks that they were performing — and much faster than having someone search through a handful of cards in their wallet.
Limiting Disruptions & Environmental Impact
As we entered the construction site, we passed a 60-foot-high concrete wall, which was built solely to limit the construction noise for residents in the surrounding area or wildlife in the neighboring woodlands.
We also passed the check-in area for all construction vehicles and suppliers. No vehicle is permitted to idle for more than five minutes — to minimize fugitive emissions — and each driver must verify that they received instructions and are prepared to clean up any leak or spill caused by their vehicle. All vehicles must pass through a wash-down before leaving the site to prevent soil or any other contaminants from leaving the worksite and possibly entering stormwater.
Stormwater regulations require nearly every construction site to prevent spills and contaminants from leaving the site and have a plan to clean them up if they do. Because of the environmentally sensitive areas surrounding this particular construction site, staff members and employees are even more diligent with their preparation efforts.
As we walked around the site and discussed ways to provide containment for a number of different outdoor areas, it was impressive that the safety and environmental groups worked with the design engineers and considered the placement of each staging area throughout the facility as part of their design process.
The two groups also established procedures for parking equipment to ensure containment and prevent releases. Each parking area is stocked with spill response supplies. Drums and overpacks are also available to collect spill-related wastes. Each spill kit is marked with a phone number to call so that the environmental group can restock spill supplies and handle the waste drums.
At the end of the visit, as we left the site in the shuttle full of employees wearing their hard hats and safety vests, I reflected on everything it takes to make sure that everyone returns home safely each night and how just a few moments of proactive planning can prevent a major environmental disaster. It was also a reminder that there’s no excuse for letting safety and environmental protection slip because of your unique situation. It may take a little bit of effort, but there’s always a solution.