In the hills of West Virginia, TransCanada is building 165 miles of natural gas pipeline as part of the Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline (MXP) project. When completed, this $2 billion project will allow up to 2.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to travel along the Columbia pipeline system, most of which is located in West Virginia.
“LIUNA is proud of the strong, lasting relationships we’ve built with many of our signatory contractors,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “These companies understand that responsible corporate governance should go beyond customer relations and environmental impacts to include programs that will protect the health and safety of their employees.”
As a responsible owner, TransCanada recognizes the importance of keeping workers safe on their jobsites, and that pipeline projects can present a variety of serious hazards to workers if proper safety procedures aren’t put in place. That’s why TransCanada involved all of the contractors and trades that were part of the project in its safety and health initiatives. With several different prime contractors, more than 40 subcontractors and thousands of workers assigned to eight different spreads along a 165-mile stretch, that was no simple task.
A Visit from the LHSFNA
Through LIUNA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office and Vice President Dennis Martire, one of those safety and health initiatives included inviting staff from the LHSFNA out to help spread the message that safety was of the utmost importance to TransCanada and its contractors and subcontractors. When I visited four of the eight pipeline spreads in October and November of 2018, there were more Laborers on the job than any other trade.
During each visit, I started with a presentation at the superintendent/foreman meetings, where we discussed management’s role in safety and briefly went over the safety talking points that I’d cover later that day in the all-hands meeting.
At the all-hands meeting, I started by reminding all the workers on site what they already knew – there are a lot of safety challenges on pipeline jobs. It’s a fast-paced, often chaotic and constantly changing work environment with long hours in remote locations. Contractors and workers are often faced with work organization issues and tough environmental conditions. There are heavy lifts, extreme slopes, rugged terrain, bad weather conditions and a crowded right-of-way.
It’s not possible to cover all of these hazards in a single all-hands meeting. Instead, I asked TransCanada’s safety team about recent incidents on site and root cause analyses or accident investigations. Based on their answers, I focused on five specific areas:
1. Stop Work Authority
TransCanada and its contractors and subcontractors wanted all employees to understand that every worker on site has the responsibility and the authority to stop any work due to unsafe actions or any work that will create unsafe conditions.
2. Driving Safety
Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that roughly 40 percent of workplace deaths occur in vehicle accidents and collisions. Another leading cause was being struck by objects or equipment. With such a large and remote jobsite, workers spend a significant amount of time driving, whether it’s in work vehicles, personal vehicles or construction equipment. I spoke to workers about general driving safety (e.g., seat belt use, not using cell phones) and about ways to reduce congestion on the crowded right-of-way and when traveling to and from the site. I also spoke about the importance of securing any load being transported and using spotters and situational awareness when backing up or parking.
In addition to a fast-paced and constantly changing work environment and the other hazards mentioned in this article, safety challenges on pipeline jobs can include:
- Extreme slopes
- Long hours leading to worker fatigue
- Underground and overhead power lines
- Heavy loads and critical lifts (e.g., cranes)
- Poor infrastructure (e.g., rural location, lack of space, poor road conditions easily affected by weather)
- Confined spaces
- Slips, trips and falls and working from heights
3. Job Safety Analysis
A job safety analysis (JSA) is a procedure that helps integrate accepted safety and health principles and practices into a particular task or job operation. JSAs involve identifying hazards associated with tasks and developing control measures for each hazard before work begins. Foreman should communicate these safe work procedures to workers and make sure all workers have any site-specific training needed to do the job safely. JSAs are a key part of jobsite planning, oversight and coordination with other trades. They are also a great tool for increasing worker involvement.
4. Excavations and Ground Disturbances
Next, I spoke to workers about identifying and marking all underground utilities when work activities are occurring around them or prior to the start of excavations. I reminded workers to maintain at least the minimum clearance distance between the equipment and the underground utilities and to inspect all excavations before entering.
5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Lastly, I spoke to workers about PPE. While workers on site already use PPE on a daily basis, this familiarity can at times make it possible to take for granted how important PPE is to worker safety. I closed with a quick refresher on why it’s important to identify and select required PPE before work starts, not once a task has already begun, and why all PPE should be inspected before use and maintained until it’s time to be replaced.
During my presentation, I reinforced the bullet points above with examples of safe work practices related to lifting and hoisting heavy loads, trench safety, entering confined spaces and fall protection when working at heights. After the meeting, I spoke to the Laborers who were on site that day and handed out hard hat stickers and the Fund’s Safety in the Trenches booklet.
A Joint Effort from LIUNA’s TriFunds, Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, Locals and Signatory Contractors
Visiting the MXP site allowed me to share the message that through good work organization, planning, training, worker involvement and open communication, together, we can make jobsites safer. Throughout this process, I had the support of LIUNA’s TriFunds, including staff from LIUNA Training and Mid-Atlantic LECET. Help and coordination from LIUNA Vice President Dennis Martire and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, the WV & Appalachian Laborers’ District Council and West Virginia Locals 1149, 1085, 984 and 1353 was instrumental to showing the workers on site that this was a true team effort and that everyone involved is committed to their health and safety on the job.
[Travis Parsons is the LHSFNA’s Associate Director of Occupational Safety & Health.]