Applied Ingenuity Yields Unique Safety Solution

By Mark Miner, Miron Construction Co. | September 28, 2010

Edited by Mike Larson

During any construction project, a number of challenges always arise. They can stem from design, materials, weather, scheduling, safety issues, or any number of other sources.

When the challenge involves overcoming obstacles in order to maintain the production schedule, meet a deadline, reduce cost, or improve quality, contractors usually have a well-defined process for bringing together the people and resources needed to quickly come up with an effective solution.

In the past, many contractors were not so adept at, or willing to apply, this same kind of problem solving to jobsite safety challenges.

Safety challenges were met with excuses about why a task could not be completed safely or in accordance with governmental regulations.

Too often, the search for solutions to safety issues used to be stifled by the "that won't work" or "it costs too much" mentality.

Change In Industry Attitude Helps Address Safety Challenges

Now, as more contractors see that it makes good business sense to keep workers safe, healthy and productive, more and more are following the lead of progressive contractors in applying the same techniques they use to overcome production challenges to find answers for safety-related problems.

This process involves the construction team getting together and tapping into its collective experience and expertise to look at the challenge, generate a wide range of ideas, evaluate each one, and then choose the best one.

Fortunately, Miron Construction, Neenah, WI, has held a progressive attitude toward safety for a long time, so it has some experience in applying problem-solving techniques to safety challenges.

Still, a unique situation sometimes presents an out-of-the ordinary challenge.

Project Presents Unique Challenges

One such unique safety challenge came up recently at a high-profile, fast-track project Miron Construction is handling in Green Bay, WI.

The project requires Miron to construct a 6-acre process building, which included pouring more than 21,000 cubic yards of concrete and constructing a steel enclosure 70-feet high in just a few months with the expectation of no injuries.

One of the major challenges was to construct a foundation for the specialized equipment that would go inside the building.

The foundation's footing is 181 feet wide, 100 feet long, 4 feet thick, and made from more than 2,100 cubic yards of concrete.

In order to stay on schedule, Miron poured the footing in one day, requiring seamless coordination, communication and 100-percent cooperation among all the contractors and suppliers involved.

This task was daunting enough, but the real challenge for production and safety was just beginning.

The nine foundation walls standing atop the previously described footing measured 90 feet long and 32 feet high. Each one had to be formed, have rebar installed, be poured, and then have its forms stripped and re-set at the rate of one wall a day.

Each of the foundation walls took close to 100 cubic yards of concrete, so some days the crews worked diligently until 9:00 p.m. in order to keep up with the construction schedule.

One safety challenge was coordinating all the mixer trucks delivering load after load of concrete for the walls, as well as the three cranes servicing the operation, and all the material and equipment, which was in constant motion.

In addition, several crews' work required them to be exposed to potential falls of up to 32 feet, so manlifts and tie-offs were essential.

Once the concrete in the walls had reached its designed strength, the next phase was to form and pour the concrete machinery deck that sits atop them.

When the deck had cured to its designed strength, it was time to set the specialized process equipment that will work within the building.

Large Deck With Big Openings Presents Safety Challenge

Besides providing fall protection around the perimeter of the deck sitting 34 feet high, Miron needed to find a solution that would let crews work safely and productively around eight openings in the deck, each measuring 65 feet long and 10 feet wide with a fall exposure of more than 34 feet to the concrete footing below.

The huge openings in the deck were required for installing the process machinery. At first glance, providing fall protection would seem as simple as installing protective covers.

However, because parts of the equipment extended below the deck, it soon became apparent that using standard fall protection, such as guard rails and fall-arrest equipment, would not meet the overall goal of safe and efficient production.

Team Gathers, Applies Problem-Solving Techniques

With the schedule at risk, the construction team embarked on its solution-focused task of finding a way to maximize production while protecting workers from the fall exposure of the in-deck openings.

The construction team began by explaining its considerable challenge to Miron's risk-management team.

Because time was of the essence, the risk-management team set up a brainstorming session that included all the individuals whose expertise was essential to finding an effective solution.

This group included the superintendent responsible for installing the machinery, the project's overall manager, members of the risk-management department, the work crew that would be installing the machinery, a representative from a safety-equipment vendor, a representative from the building's owner, and a representative from the manufacturer for engineering support.

Demanding Requirements Defined Quickly

In just one hour, the team laid out the essential elements needed for a successful solution.

  • The system had to be free standing for a distance of 80 feet.
  • It had to accommodate up to three workers at a time.
  • The workers needed to be able to travel the entire length of each opening unrestricted.
  • The safety system could not interfere with installation of the machinery.
  • A total of nine systems were needed.
  • The safety system would have to withstand all weather conditions.
  • The system had to pass a cost-benefit analysis to justify its expense, compared to using conventional methods of fall protection.
  • It needed to be available in three to four days.

Defining the requirements quickly was essential in order to have time to search out and evaluate possible solutions within the three- to four-day deadline. Knowing that such a system had never been used in a situation like this only added to the pressure.

Customized Adaption Saves The Day

Just as trusted suppliers can help solve problems on production aspects of projects, the right supplier can also help come up with the right solution to meet a project's safety challenges.

In this case, the suppliers were Lighthouse Safety LLC, Brookfield, WI, which had experience working with Miron's safety department, and Reliance Industries, Deer Park, TX, which manufactures safety systems sold by Lighthouse.

Together, Miron and Lighthouse thought that a Reliance-made horizontal lifeline tie-off system Miron already owned from a previous project might be adapted to meet the unique needs of this application.

Adapting the system would not be a slam-dunk, however.

On the previous project, the upright posts that support the safety system's horizontal tie-off lines had been held in place both by sleeves embedded in the concrete and by guy wires pulling in the opposite direction of the lifeline wire. That put the support posts in compression.

On the current project, the safety system's supporting posts would be on a deck 34 feet off the ground, so they would have to be supported without using guy wires.

In addition, the posts would have to be mounted to the surface of the deck with anchor bolts, rather than inserted into sleeves embedded in the deck.

Reliance suggested that on this project, the posts could be mounted to the deck with special adapters and held upright by a diagonal steel brace running between the deck and the upright post.

Because this new support arrangement would put the main posts in tension rather than compression and because the mounts and the diagonal support were new, the entire system would have to be engineered and its strength verified before any of the new parts could be manufactured and used.

In addition, the whole system had to be tested before it could be relied on to protect workers.

Working with Miron's requirements, Reliance engineered each new component, verified the strength of the safety tie-off system as a whole, then manufactured and delivered the new parts — all in just four days.

Due to the lifeline system's uniqueness, Miron's crews required comprehensive training about how to install, inspect and use it before being able to put it into use.

Once Miron's construction crews learned how to use the safety system, it let them work freely and safely along both sides of each opening to install the specialized machinery in time to meet the construction schedule.

The safety tie-off system worked so well that the project team decided to leave it in place for the other trades to use in safely completing their work.

This is a prime example of how a unique or difficult safety-related challenge can be met by applying the same principles used to solve construction-production challenges.

Author Information
Mark Miner, MS, is director of risk management for Miron Construction Co., Inc. Photos courtesy of Miron Construction.