“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Team Balfour Beatty Achieves Safety Milestone on Marine Corps Project
― Dwight D. Eisenhower
There are a number of common skills it takes to be successful in the construction industry and U.S. military like discipline and drive, but perhaps none is more greatly esteemed amongst both ranks than a dedication to safety. Our team achieved zero lost time incidents on a two-year project at the Marine Corps Air Station, Camp Pendleton, illustrating not only the importance of occupational safety and health but also the lasting impact a construction partner can have when those principles are embraced to their fullest.
A Dream Takes Flight
In 2012, Balfour Beatty was awarded a task order for the demolition of an existing hangar and construction of a new, two-bay hangar to accommodate MV-22 Osprey aircraft. The primary assault support aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps, the MV-22 possesses unparalleled speed, maneuverability, and cargo space that offers today’s troops advanced expeditionary capabilities and staggering operational reach. Recognizing a need for a new type of aircraft that could not only take off and land vertically but also carry combat troops, the Department of Defense initiated plans for the development of this aircraft in the early 1980s; after several decades of design, production, and testing, the MV-22 was successfully fielded in 2007, propelling a new era in aviation technology. But with those added capabilities came the need to construct hangars with the capacity to stow and maintain significantly larger aircraft.
From the outset, our team understood that in order to complete the operation safely, they’d need to be as systematic and strategic as the U.S. servicemen working adjacent to them on base. And just like our troops go confidently into battle expecting nothing less than absolute victory, our team began work in January 2014 believing a perfect safety record was well within reach. If the job had a code name, the team might have named it “Operation Possible.”
Against the Odds
It’s been said that if you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan your mission properly. Our project team at Camp Pendleton would certainly agree this sentiment applies as much to infantrymen as tradesmen.
The project site was located a mere 50 feet from an active airstrip, which in addition to the expected noise issues, required the team to be diligent about preventing foreign object debris, or FOD, like scrap metal from being sucked into aircraft engines. The proximity also necessitated a laser-like focus on creating and maintaining site logistics plans, especially the separation of moving vehicles and heavy equipment from pedestrian pathways. Even the initial hangar demolition was fraught with potential safety complications like that of falling objects, since its height approached 60 feet. Those were just some of the issues the team had to attack before the slab was even installed, which was an uphill battle in its own rite since trenches for the foam fire suppression system had to be created as the concrete was poured.
Though there was no shortage of safety challenges as construction progressed, the project team benefited from working with an owner whose dedication to safety mirrored their own. In fact, the government required the presence of a minimum of three management-level personnel onsite if work was being performed. Although our lingoes were sometimes different – our Job Hazard Analysis, or JHA, was the military’s Activity Hazard Analysis, or AHA – the end goal was always the same: ensuring work was planned, approached, and constructed in the safest manner possible. Our team was so passionate about planning that before any activity commenced, the crews gathered for a Zero Harm moment during which personal anecdotes were shared. The concept of pre-planning work even extended to a stretch n’ flex exercise program the team implemented to prevent soft-tissue and muscle strain injuries that plague many laborers.
A Proactive Mindset for an Unprecedented Mission
It was a proactive mindset that carried the team through a project the likes of which even the most seasoned veterans amongst the Balfour Beatty ranks had never before constructed. The new 118,610 square-foot double hangar, which involved the supervision of over 50 trades that collectively logged more than 191,056 man hours, included complex elements with unique safety concerns such as:
- The installation of 950 stone columns inside the hangar’s structural foundation and exterior perimeter walls, each approximately 50-feet deep. To install the columns, the team had to drill down and add the stone and sand composite mixture using heavy equipment such as a 900 CFM compressor, BG-24 drilling rig, 900-ton belt crane, and American cranes with five yard rock hoppers. In efforts to eliminate hazards from this activity, the project team utilized the following:
- Fencing around the drilled holes to protect workers inside the area
- Shut down of existing utilities during operation
- Policy which required 100% tie-off when working around drilled holes
- Drilled and filled columns in the areas where new utilities were installed, which eliminated vibration causing damage and cave-in potential
- The installation of two bridge cranes that connect to the MV-22 aircraft and lift them off the ground, enabling maintenance and repair work to be performed. To eliminate potential safety issues, the project team utilized the following measures:
- Controlled Access Zones (CAZ)
- Project area lift policy that required 100% tie-off at all times
- Certified operators as well as spotters when equipment was moved
- Pre-Task Plan (PTP) created and reviewed by the team before each work shift
- Engineered erection jib for lifting the crane rails
- Magnetic drills for overhead drilling work that had to be completed through an inch of solid steel. Magnetic drills lock into place, thereby avoiding the potential that traditional drills have to skip or catch in an awkward position during operation.
- CMU work around three full sides of the structure, which required scaffolding at heights of approximately 60 feet. At the end of each day, the team red tagged all scaffolding, and before work commenced the next morning, the scaffolding was inspected by a competent person, at which time it was tagged green indicating work could safely resume.
- Temporary electrical power tied into the base’s existing switchgear. During preconstruction, the team created a detailed power plan that called for most lines to be installed underground. This all but eliminated the potential for contact with overhead power lines.
- Extensive grading of the site soil, which required third-party testing and inspections personnel to visit the site. In order to ensure these individuals were visible at all times to the operators of heavy equipment, the project team harnessed flagpoles to the inspectors’ backpacks.
The project’s unique scope elements culminated with an activity that, due to its logistical and safety challenges, took three months to plan: the erection of two 475,116-pound, 10-foot tall, 20-foot wide, and 340-foot long steel truss sections. The assembled length of each truss was approximately the size of a football field – plus an additional 40 feet. The steel trusses were delivered to the site in eight sections. To mitigate risk, the team elected to bolt the four 60-foot sections together while simultaneously installing additional bracing. Once the sections were bolted together, the team harnessed the power of two cranes operating in unison to move each truss into position. To complete the two-day process, four iron workers labored on man-lifts to install the bolts once the trusses were in place. Here’s a video highlighting this exciting project milestone
“The military takes safety very seriously,” affirmed senior project manager, Mark Chappell. “Even as diligent as they are, they were extremely impressed by what we’ve accomplished here. And we did it as a team. Everyone on site, even our project accountant, Emily McSurdy, and our field engineer, Mitch O’Neill, took on the role of a safety and health leader. We all took our responsibility very seriously. This is hands down the best project I’ve ever been on in terms of safety.”
But you don’t just have to take our word for it. Nap Arcala, Regional Officer in Charge of Construction (ROICC) Construction Manager for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command SW had this to say about our team:
“After a brief learning phase at the beginning of the project, the Balfour Beatty safety team, led by Donnie Luster, has performed admirably on this project. The project has logged over 500 days and almost 200,000 man hours without a DART incident. Their Zero Harm culture is not just a slogan… it permeates through the staff to the subcontractor foremen and crew. Donnie is one of the most energetic and proactive SSHOs around. He is very passionate about safety on and off the job. He is well supported by the project manager, Mark Chappell, the superintendent, Dan Chandler, and the QC, Pat Anderson, in enforcing safety regulations. The team conduct[ed] periodic safety committee walk-throughs with their subcontractor reps. These walkthroughs ensure[d] buy-in from their subs and have proven to be effective in maintaining the high level of safety awareness throughout the workforce. Job well done!”
Tactical, trained, and thorough. Those accolades certainly belong to our men and women in uniform, but as this project team proved, it’s possible to approach safety as an attainable target with the right combination of passion and planning. And it doesn’t hurt to entrust such an important mission to some of the most elite builders in this business, who embrace a zero injury safety culture as their badge of honor.