Underground Construction Safety: Be Sure You're on the Right Track

Joseph E. Fitzgerald, Jr.

Abstract

Taking care of safety means accepting responsibility for safety at every level, identifying hazards, training and equipping workers properly, and ensuring that they will be taken care of in emergencies. The Department of Energy (DOE) is striving to demonstrate the leadership necessary to make excellence in safety and health the rule rather than the exception.

Of DOE initiatives underway, contract reform and external regulation have particular relevance to the Yucca Mountain Project (YMP). DOE is changing its contracting process to better define expectations, measure performance, improve incentives, and strengthen departmental management of contracts. While a regulatory regime demands more in the way of demonstrable or verifiable compliance with specified regulations, it will not, of itself, foster a safe work place; DOE and industry must work to create a safe operating environment.

Two challenges stand out as areas for improvement in safety and health at the operating level: (1) the need for better safety accountability and (2) the need to better instill safe practices and behavior. Given the hazards inherent in underground construction, the industry has made commendable strides in accident prevention. However, more can and should be done to increase margins of safety in what remains a dangerous enterprise.

Introduction

The subtitle of this paper, Be Sure You're on the Right Track, means as always, that we have a distinct choice in managing safety: either let safety take care of itself or take care of safety.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
--> Underground Construction Safety: Be Sure You're on the Right Track Joseph E. Fitzgerald, Jr. Abstract Taking care of safety means accepting responsibility for safety at every level, identifying hazards, training and equipping workers properly, and ensuring that they will be taken care of in emergencies. The Department of Energy (DOE) is striving to demonstrate the leadership necessary to make excellence in safety and health the rule rather than the exception. Of DOE initiatives underway, contract reform and external regulation have particular relevance to the Yucca Mountain Project (YMP). DOE is changing its contracting process to better define expectations, measure performance, improve incentives, and strengthen departmental management of contracts. While a regulatory regime demands more in the way of demonstrable or verifiable compliance with specified regulations, it will not, of itself, foster a safe work place; DOE and industry must work to create a safe operating environment. Two challenges stand out as areas for improvement in safety and health at the operating level: (1) the need for better safety accountability and (2) the need to better instill safe practices and behavior. Given the hazards inherent in underground construction, the industry has made commendable strides in accident prevention. However, more can and should be done to increase margins of safety in what remains a dangerous enterprise. Introduction The subtitle of this paper, Be Sure You're on the Right Track, means as always, that we have a distinct choice in managing safety: either let safety take care of itself or take care of safety.

OCR for page 1
--> The first course—one that, unfortunately, all of us are familiar with—assumes that workers will always understand and follow procedures. It assumes that if procedures do not exist, the workers' experience will keep them out of harm's way and that good judgment will prevail in those hazardous situations that might be encountered. It has meant, for some managers, letting the subcontractors take care of themselves. Taking care of safety, on the other hand, means accepting responsibility at every level for the workers on the ground and in the tunnel. It means identifying the hazards workers will face, training them for effectiveness, equipping them properly, and ensuring that they will be taken care of in emergencies. What is both right and wrong with safety practices must be confronted to assure that past mistakes and past accidents will not be repeated. To accomplish this, the status quo (the convention that has us believe that ''it must be right, it's the way we've always done it'') must be challenged. Lessons from accidents and near-misses must be extracted and defensiveness or embarrassment must not preclude an honest and open exchange on future prevention. As safety professionals are apt to say, it is the only good thing that comes from an accident. Worker Safety and Health Worker safety and health has been given a very prominent place by Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary. She has challenged DOE to demonstrate the leadership necessary to make excellence in safety and health the rule rather than the exception. Tangible actions have been taken to aggressively move the department from a largely reactive posture to one that establishes accident prevention as its goal and employee involvement as its mode of operation. A number of initiatives have been announced and are underway; two are discussed below. Contract Reform The first initiative is contract reform. DOE is developing changes to its contracting process that will better define expectations, measure performance, improve incentives, and strengthen departmental management of contracts. This reform effort addresses significant issues, such as explicit consideration of the safety record of contractors, including subcontractors, who bid on DOE work. Also considered are performance criteria for safety and health built into contracts, providing both incentives and penalties for on-the-job performance. Yet another issue is the extent to which DOE will indemnify contractors for

OCR for page 1
--> civil fines and penalties, as well as liability for third-party claims. In addition, to what extent will DOE reimburse contractors for litigation, judgments, and compliance costs? DOE is assessing risk-sharing, to ensure that contractors appropriately shoulder the burden of poor performance while sharing in the rewards of good performance. The task group reviewing these questions delivered its recommendations to the Secretary, and publicly released them, in February 1994. External Regulation Another DOE initiative addresses external regulation. In May 1993, Secretary O'Leary announced her endorsement of work-place regulatory enforcement at DOE facilities by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). O'Leary recognized the need for a transition period of three to five years to assess resource issues and determine how future regulatory enforcement actions will be handled. She also expressed a willingness to consider the issue of regulatory oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Whereas until now the YMP, along with the Waste Isolation Project Plant, has occupied a rather unique niche within DOE because of its legislated external oversight, it is unlikely this singularity will persist much longer. The issue of regulatory oversight of big tunnel projects is a top-priority topic that should be kept in perspective. Despite some views to the contrary, regulatory oversight will not, in any way, relieve DOE of the responsibility to enforce the safety and health provisions of contracts, nor in any way relieve DOE or its contractors from liability for accidents for which culpability can be shown. More importantly, while a regulatory regime does demand more in the way of demonstrable or verifiable compliance with specified regulations, it will not, of itself, foster a safe work place. Safety Experience in Underground Construction Safety A recent review of OSHA's data base bears out that safety in U.S. underground construction has increased over the years. We are now far removed from the exceedingly dangerous times of yesteryear, when tunneling was performed using dynamite and black powder and canaries were used for methane detection. For example, in 1890, 68 workers died as they bored a gas tunnel under what is now Roosevelt Island in New York City. At least 50 tunnel workers died from January to May 1906 in the construction of Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels. Thirteen tunnel workers died while building the Holland Tunnel in the 1920s.

OCR for page 1
--> There are still, however, holdovers from those tragic times in underground construction. For example, to this day, the notion persists in many circles that one fatality per mile is a statistical norm for tunnel construction and should be the expected price to pay for the hazards involved. However, a review of 3,496 fatalities investigated by OSHA for the five-year period of 1985 through 1989 shows that 7 were attributable to tunnel construction projects. Of those 7 fatalities, 3 resulted from 1 incident, the methane explosion at the Milwaukee tunnel project. However, these projects involved many miles of construction. It is also easy to lose sight of how much ancillary surface construction is performed in support of tunnel excavation and the risk associated with it. In 1992, surface construction accidental fatalities numbered 18, as compared with 5 underground, according to Mine Safety and Health Administration data. While the overall safety record of underground construction has improved considerably, there are obviously some big qualifiers. As with other heavy construction activities, safety lapses have been, and remain, unforgiving for the workers involved. The following account is not from yesteryear, but in fact is from a recent issue of the New York Times. Many of the men in shaft No. 23 knew Anthony Oddo, 33, who was killed last Wednesday in a water shaft... in Queens as a 16-ton construction winch plunged into the hole. He was the 20th man to die building ... the water tunnel project [under New York City], begun in 1970.... A coworker, John Moon, 53, survived an accident in 1977 in a shaft in the Bronx, an example of how even the smallest of dangers can turn deadly in tunnel work. He was struck on the left side of his face by a falling clump of ice the size of a basketball, formed by tiny droplets of water that froze and accumulated on the shaft's wall .... Ice is perhaps the least obvious hazard: every day, cranes and winches lower into the holes enormous drills, bulldozers, [and] buckets that weigh 32,000 pounds when filled with rock. Rocks fall and tunnels flood, sometimes fatally. (The New York Times, 1993) Given the potential for a catastrophic accident under these everyday dangers, not only must we stay vigilant, but we must continue to challenge the status quo, particularly the attitude held by some that an occasional accident is to be expected in underground work.

OCR for page 1
--> Reliance on an Experienced Contractor Several DOE construction accidents over the past few years bear out these concerns. In Hanford, Washington, two separate fatal accidents occurred where experienced workers were operating in unfamiliar work environments without suitable pre-job planning and hazard analysis. In Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in November 1993, an experienced construction subcontractor was killed while inadequately performing a hoisting operation with inadequate equipment. Finally, at the Superconducting Supercollider construction site in Texas in January 1993, a tunnel worker was fatally injured when a segment of tunnel liner fell on him. In this last case, the subsequent investigation found that DOE and its construction manager relied unduly on the construction contractor's previous experience and positive safety record on another project for assurance that safety would be properly addressed. However, as the investigation determined, at the time of the accident the contractor was using a different tunnel boring machine than at the previous job, with differing controls, in a different size tunnel, within a different geological formation, and with a crew that had, in part, changed job assignments since their last tunnel project. These issues show that while previous experience is a valuable asset, it cannot be used as a crutch to ensure effective safety and health performance. We have learned the hard lesson that both DOE and its operating contractors must manage, oversee, and be accountable for safety and health for subcontractors and prime contractors alike at all phases of construction. Worker Safety and Health Issues At Yucca Mountain Following are several important construction management issues and concerns bearing on safety programs at the Exploratory Studies Facility. These include considerations of cost, liability, and contract management. Cost Considerations for Safety An obvious issue in construction at the YMP, in terms of both safety and cost, is the remote location of the project site. In addition to cost considerations such as personnel and material transport during construction, extensive planning and preparation will be essential to provide the necessary emergency response capability. The standard applicable to emergency response in underground construction is quite prescriptive in terms of rescue

OCR for page 1
--> team make-up and its proximity to the project site. It will present a challenge to fulfill this responsibility in the most cost-effective manner without compromising project safety. Subcontractor Management—Responsibility and Liability In parts of the DOE complex, as in private industry, many construction managers and owners are reluctant to dictate or become involved in subcontractor safety and health programs, due to concerns about increased liability exposure, whether real or perceived. In the federal sector, these liability concerns have been heightened due to the much-publicized case of the Aberdeen Three in which three civilian federal employees of the Army Aberdeen Proving Ground were convicted of environmental crimes. This unfortunate and unintended interpretation by some in the industry has led to an increasingly defensive posture, one in which federal and private sector managers distance themselves from hazardous or risky activities for which they are responsible. Yet too often missed is the perspective that most liability cases center around malfeasance or intentional and illegal acts, not good-faith efforts to comply with applicable regulations. Experience tells us that legal precedent leans against those who have the responsibility and authority to enforce job site safety and health but fail to use it. This notion is borne out by a March 1990, Washington State Supreme Court ruling that upheld the liability of both general contractors and owner/developers for safety and health on construction work sites, even where the contractor manager or owner chose not to assume control over project subcontractors. The bottom line here is that avoiding management responsibilities may actually increase liability. Worker's Compensation—Avoiding Injuries and Saving Money There are also economic reasons for DOE and its construction managers to proactively enforce contract safety and health provisions. In DOE, most contractors are indemnified and reimbursed for worker's compensation and other losses, or wrap-up policy premiums themselves are reimbursed, as with the Superconducting Supercollider. In both instances, successful management of safety and health can save considerable sums of money that would otherwise be used to pay compensation claims. Over the past ten years, accidents have cost DOE over one half of a billion dollars in injury costs that are typically insured under worker's compensation. And this is a minimum, since DOE incurs more than medical costs when workers are injured. Termed indirect costs, these include a loss of productivity of the injured workers and their

OCR for page 1
--> coworkers, transportation costs to medical facilities, damaged property, and significant project delays. There are also the costs of third-party claims filed on behalf of the injured. These hidden costs of accidents can exceed direct, insurable costs by factors ranging from two to four, depending on the severity of the injury. For example, the total estimated cost for a lost workday injury or illness in construction work today is about $24,000, including claims. DOE had 3,000 such cases last year. Underground Construction Safety: What is Important? Experience has shown a weakness at DOE construction sites in the way potential hazards are identified, analyzed, and mitigated before work begins. The tendency is to rely on the expertise and experience of the contractor to keep out of trouble, rather than ensuring that the project team carefully walks through planned activities with an eye toward "what ifs." It is illustrative that four of the five construction fatalities at DOE sites over the past two years had inadequate planning as a major cause. This is a particular irony in that safety planning is a well-established, obligatory part of doing work on the nuclear side of DOE' s responsibilities, where the risks to life and limb are arguably much lower than in conventional construction. DOE is meeting the need for more explicit departmental direction on construction job hazard analyses through the issuance of the upcoming DOE Order 5480.9A, "Construction Project Safety and Health Management." Within this Order, hazard analyses are addressed through a required preliminary hazard analysis prior to the commencement of a construction project and an activity hazard analysis prior to the commencement of work on any phase of the project. About 20 percent of all construction injuries occur within the first month a worker reports to a new work site; about 90 percent fall within the first 12 months. From past program assessments and accident investigations, it appears that inadequate training is probably the most common root cause of construction injuries. For underground construction, an assessment at one site found that no procedures existed for training workers on tunnel construction equipment. Many sites emphasize classroom-style general safety training, with too few hands-on exercises. In many instances, there is not much in the way of defined training performance objectives coupled with testing or observation to validate training effectiveness. A construction contractor needs to ensure that each employee entering a work site has—through experience, training, and where required, certification—the skill and knowledge necessary to safely perform the assigned tasks. A comprehensive training program at a construction site should include the following: (1) work-site safety and

OCR for page 1
--> health orientation; (2) training prior to each phase of construction; and (3) regular "toolbox" safety and health training at the job site. However, this issue goes beyond a more explicit set of requirements. In a major project such as the YMP, a large influx of both new and experienced workers is likely. A number of skills are unique to underground tunnel construction, and it is well-known that procedures tend to change from job to job. In the past, employees usually learned these skills and procedures while training on the job under the guidance of an experienced worker. The adequacy of the training, as with much on-the-job training, varied with the trainer involved and the amount of time available to learn necessary skills. Without clear performance criteria and skills testing—not just for machinery operation, but also for hazard recognition, emergency response, and personal protective equipment—there is little assurance that new workers will be adequately prepared and experienced workers will not bring bad habits to the new job. Given the unique challenge of safely evacuating workers from a tunnel in the event of a fire, a cave-in, or an injury, a comprehensive emergency preparedness program is not merely a facet of a complete safety program, it is an absolute necessity. Such a program must provide for clear procedures, thorough training, and the availability and use of protective equipment. A number of valuable lessons derive from the N-Tunnel flammable gas flashover accident that occurred at the Nevada Test Site on October 30, 1992. Although the contractor had good operational procedures in place, that accident, involving three workers at a tunnel face several hundred feet underground, exposed weaknesses in emergency planning. DOE's Nevada Operations Office investigation found, for example, that the placement of equipment in the tunnel impeded egress. Similarly, air hoses were tied off by the workers to the tunnel walls, slowing escape with protective equipment intact. No provision was made for the positioning of rescue workers and equipment. A coworker rushed into the tunnel to assist the injured workers without benefit of protective equipment, thereby potentially risking his life. To its credit, the Nevada Operations Office staff, in conjunction with the Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Company, has reflected on the importance of worker training and expanded procedures to correct these problems. This is obviously an area where we can all help each other in terms of approaches proven effective in planning and training for emergencies.

OCR for page 1
--> Investments in Prevention We, in the Department, face a dual challenge in terms of meaningful improvements in safety and health at the operating level. The first challenge is the need for better accountability for safety, accountability that does not stop with the operating contractor, but instead flows between DOE, the prime contractor, and the various subcontractors. The second challenge is to strengthen how we instill safe practices and behavior in doing construction. The first challenge is already one of the central topics of this symposium; following are some thoughts on the latter challenge, improving how the construction operations are conducted from a safety standpoint. First, significant improvements can be made in the conduct of operations in construction from a safety standpoint. Conduct of operations consists of the philosophy and systematic process that guide safety in everyday operations and provide the necessary margins of protection against the inevitable human errors that take place. It encompasses hazard analysis, procedures, training, pre-job planning, and emergency planning, to name a few key components. If approached adequately, these safety provisions are formally defined, trained against, and made an integral part of routine operations. Coupled with safety-based engineering design and review, good conduct of operations provides what could be called defense in depth. That is, the approach to safety is one that provides sufficient design and operational provisions such that if one or even two safety features fail (for example, a hazard analysis fails to predict flammable gases or a piece of personal protective equipment fails to function) the situation remains recoverable, with other options and backups to prevent worker injury or death. All of the construction fatalities within DOE over the past two years, with one possible exception, could have been readily avoided with management attention to identifying and analyzing work-place hazards, planning work, developing appropriate procedures, and training workers in safe practices. Specific to tunnel projects, change control is a vulnerability that deserves attention. Any time change is introduced, whether between two work shifts, between two different phases of construction, between different construction jobs, or even with the entry of new workers, the likelihood of mishaps increases dramatically. Change control is a critical and often overlooked part of conduct of operations. It is also an aspect of work practice that is amenable to improvement through a behavior-based safety approach. The concept of approaching hazardous construction work—particularly, the often unconventional work required in tunneling—from a systems safety standpoint, making sure all the right bases are touched, is overdue in what is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. While human error will always be with us, more can be done to make such errors less frequent and more forgiving in terms of consequences. Desired

OCR for page 1
--> improvements must be balanced against any associated loss of efficiency and cost, but the best companies have proven that such accident prevention is invariably cost-effective. Conclusion In conclusion, given the risk inherent in underground construction, the industry has made commendable strides in accident prevention. However, more can and should be done to increase margins of safety in what remains a hazardous enterprise. DOE looks forward to working to accomplish this goal.

OCR for page 1
--> Reference The New York Times. November 28, 1993. Section 1, p. 45. The Hazards of Tunneling.

OCR for page 1
This page in the original is blank.