According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry accounts for one of the highest numbers of fatal work injuries each year, highlighting the need for early evaluation of safety risks in capital projects. Safety in capital projects involves preventing hazards from occurring in the first place through proper identification and minimizing the risks of fatalities, injuries, and illness by implementing effective control measures at the construction site. Evaluating and understanding all environmental, health, and safety (EHS) risks, including routine activities and Extra Hazardous Work* as early as possible is integral to the execution of a capital project and significantly influences a project’s outcome.
Below, we discuss how early evaluation of safety risks in capital projects benefits key stakeholders while introducing a safe work culture at construction sites.
Benefits of Early Evaluation of Safety Risks in Capital Projects
As part of the safety risk evaluation, a project team should assess the risks of the associated construction work in all stages, beginning in concept and design and continuing throughout construction. If risks are identified, the team should review them with key stakeholders to see if any scope items carry any inherently highly hazardous risks. Once the project is awarded to a contractor, safety concerns and risk mitigation strategies must be discussed at the project kickoff meeting.
Design / Engineering
It is essential to have licensed engineers and qualified designers on the team to ensure the design site and location meets standards and codes. Many design risks must be designed for, including arc flash, structural analysis for steel support systems, foundations, stress analysis, surge analysis, venting systems, pressurized systems, and many others. Experienced and qualified professionals on staff are critical to decreasing the risk of catastrophic failures.
Beyond design, good safety programs include OSHA mandated evaluations, Process Hazard Analysis (PHA), and/or Hazard and Operability Analysis (HAZOP). These safety processes require discussion and agreement of safe methods before design finalization.
Maintaining a robust safety culture while on-site takes continuous attention across all levels of the project team to improve hazard identification and correction. To act as a line of defense against hazardous risks, a contractor should always perform a job safety analysis (JSA). By completing a JSA on a regular basis, the team will be given the opportunity to identify potential hazards and implement preventive measures to perform the job safely.
Examples of Potential Extra Hazardous Work**
- Commissioning (such as pigging or dewatering activities)
- Confined Spaces
- Electrical (such as working within overhead electrical lines)
- Energy Isolation (such as Lockout/Tagout or hot taps)
- Environment (such as asbestos exposure, the need for acid suits, or lower oxygen levels)
- Falls (such as working over water or the need for suspended scaffolds)
- Flammables and Hot Work
- Critical Lifting (such as the use of cranes)
Let’s take a look at some of the significant advantages of early evaluation of safety risks in capital projects.
Better Communication Between Key Stakeholders
When estimating, if engineering and construction teams aren’t working together as a unit, potential safety hazards might go unnoticed. Involving project owners and other key stakeholders early and often in the project life cycle can help facilitate better communication regarding safety plans and required resources to protect the construction crew.
Minimizing Risk of Changes to the Project
Safety impacts need to be considered before the project is executed. Reviewing EHS risks during the planning phases, such as Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED), eliminates the chances of significant changes to the project later to accommodate safety measures. This also helps avoid additional costs and delays in the project schedule. If safety risks are not able to be evaluated in the early planning phases, it is beneficial to evaluate them in the bid phase to ensure alignment between the project owner and contractor.
Proactive Development of Safe Work Plans
If the on-site construction crew identifies hazardous construction work that was not previously identified during the estimating or engineering phases, all work activities should be stopped until the risks have been mitigated and safety measures have been approved and communicated to the workforce. Having an early evaluation of safety risks helps avoid having to stall construction activities to develop a safe work plan that would inevitably delay the project timeline and incur additional budget costs. By assessing hazardous work early, safe work plans can be developed and approved by corporate management before work begins.
Complying with Safety Standards
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emphasizes establishing safety and health programs to protect workers at construction sites. Through early evaluation of safety risks in capital projects, project owners and contractors can ensure compliance with OSHA-recommended safety standards while aiming for a zero Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR).
Sometimes project stakeholders might not be aware of all the safety risks associated with a particular construction activity. Overlooking critical aspects such as Lockout/Tagout (the practice of disabling, isolating, and securing hazardous energy sources on-site), not accounting for potential repairs, or not considering details such as location to build scaffolding, can severely impact the safety of workers and can be cost-intensive. It’s important to team up with the right contractor that can help effectively evaluate safety risks in capital projects.
Introducing a Safe Work Environment Culture in Capital Projects
At H+M Industrial EPC, we understand the importance of evaluating safety risks and quality control standards to create a safe work environment. Our Extra Hazardous Work program is designed for early detection and communication of work hazards in various construction environments, including commissioning, confined spaces, electrical, and lifting. The EHW checklist is instrumental in identifying hazardous work in the estimating/proposal phase to create safe work plans.
Further, the job safety analysis regularly conducted by H+M crews at job sites ensures ongoing safety risk evaluations to identify extra hazardous work and develop mitigation strategies. With annual training on our EHW program, we make sure that our employees are well-equipped to identify workplace hazards, develop safe work plans, and maintain consistent communication about job safety guidelines with the construction crew.
* - Extra Hazardous Work refers to the 10 activities that H+M Industrial EPC has identified as having the possibility to pose a higher risk for catastrophic injuries if mishandled.
** - These 10 activities were identified by H+M Industrial EPC as Extra Hazardous Work.