September 12, 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert’s destructive passage over Jamaica. Over the years, much has been documented about the socio-economic impact of natural disasters not only on Jamaica, but also on other fragile Caribbean economies. As much as has been documented however, one of the most neglected yet critical sectors of the Caribbean economies is undoubtedly that of the construction industry.
It’s imperative to begin construction site hurricane planning efforts early, and to be as prepared as possible prior to any storm. Adequate preparation can help ensure the safety of not only project and onsite teams, but also of the surrounding communities.
As the 2018 hurricane season begins to heat up, here are some recommendations that, if acted upon speedily, could help reduce losses:
Develop and Review a Hurricane Preparedness and Safety Plan
As early as April or May, and certainly prior to the start of the hurricane season, the project contractor should have provided the team with a hurricane preparedness and safety plan. This plan should have been reviewed with the entire team and the owner. This document, outlining the exact timeline and steps the contractor would take to safely secure the project site in the event of a storm, would be invaluable in mitigating loss and damage. This integrated process would be especially important when dealing with renovation projects, exterior upgrades or projects that connect new construction to existing facilities. If a plan has not yet been prepared, this activity should be undertaken as a matter of the highest priority.
It’s critical that every member of the project team realize the importance of safety and how to prevent onsite incidents. Be sure to address potential safety hazards so the team lead can fix the issue as quickly as possible.
Once the storm hits the project site, caution needs to be exercised and team members riding out the storm should stay inside. Doing otherwise could put them at risk. Good judgement and common sense should be the watch words and a “safety first “culture should be exemplified.
Create a Construction Site Risk Register
In the event of a storm approaching, all potential risks and impacts on the construction site should be assessed and documented in a risk register. This information should be shared with all stakeholders.
The risk register should include cost impacts if stored materials are compromised due to storm damage. Having these risks identified early will give you supporting documentation to prepare for added project costs, schedule impacts incurred because of a storm or an insurance claim, if needed.
Establish a Ride-out Team
Work with the general contractor and subcontractors to create a ride-out team during a hurricane. This team will stay at the facility throughout the duration of the storm. For renovation projects, electrical and mechanical subcontractors typically will be familiar with existing hospital systems and can play a critical support role in the event of utility failures.
They can provide additional reinforcement to the facility maintenance team, connecting temporary equipment such as generators and chillers, as well as aid in securing the facility’s exterior (e.g. boarding windows and placing sand bags). The ride-out team will work with the facility team after the general contractor has completed activities outlined in the hurricane preparedness plan and can help restore normalcy to the facility after the storm.
Traffic on hurricane evacuation routes will be at a standstill for those who wait until the last minute to leave. Often, those who wait end up getting stuck in their vehicles as the storm approaches, which can leave them in a life-threatening predicament. Make travel choices early and stick to the plan.
Evaluate Tower Crane Risks
Communicate clearly to project leadership the risks of having tower cranes on the project site during a storm and be prepared for push-backs. Tower cranes can’t be removed quickly; they require extensive planning, scheduling and time to disassemble.
Have the general contractor and subcontractor provide wind ratings for the cranes and an action plan for proper protection. The subcontractor should also provide an engineering report for structural integrity. All this information should be provided to project stakeholders, so they understand the risks and precautions that need to be taken to ensure the tower cranes remain standing.
Prepare Your Home for the Storm and Complete a Personal/Family Evacuation Plan
Being prepared for a storm on your project site is important, but preparing your home and family is even more important. Secure the residence and board up windows. An evacuation plan should include having vehicles filled with gas and preparing a kit with all the necessary supplies (e.g., water, food, flashlight, extra batteries and medications).
The ODPEM and the Met Office’s websites are great resources to review to make sure your home and family stay safe.
Monitor Reports and Local Announcements
Be sure to monitor media reports, and other websites (e.g. National Hurricane Center, the Weather Channel) for updates, and follow local ODPEM recommendations for evacuation announcements. These sites will keep the team updated on the latest storm developments, storm tracking and local safety recommendations.
Remember, it’s impossible to help keep others safe if you yourself are in danger. Safety always comes before service.
Document all Work in Progress and take inventory of Materials and Onsite Teams
Along with the risk register, documenting all work currently in progress, and taking an inventory of materials and onsite teams, will help when assessing the job-site for damage after the hurricane. It is also a good idea to take pictures capturing as many details as possible. This documentation should be saved and submitted in the event an insurance claim needs to be filed.
Request Access to the Facilities Disaster Communications Team
With the job-site secure and shut down, be sure the ride-out team is integrated into the facilities hurricane operations and communications. This will keep the team updated on what’s going on inside the facility and help disperse the team where needed.
Ride-out project managers should be the main point of contact between the project team and the facility’s emergency command center. This line of communication is critical as the storm approaches.
AFTER THE STORM
After the hurricane has passed, assess the construction damage, manpower costs and schedule impact. Keep in mind the construction contractors and subcontractors are affected personally by the storm, and it may take several weeks to get the project fully staffed in the aftermath.
At this point, the risk register and documentation will be useful. If done correctly, most issues have been identified and will only need updating. Remember, all this documentation will need to be submitted to the owner or stakeholders to provide insight as to how the hurricane impacted the project.
There may be two unknown schedule impacts to be aware of:
- Reduced manpower: Depending on the severity of the storm, workers may be spending time away from the project to support their family and personal property. If they are trade workers that travel, they may not be able to physically return to the project.
- Product/material distribution and procurement: Distribution routes, distribution facilities and materials suppliers may be damaged or impacted by the storm, causing unexpected delays to deliveries.
In closing, remember not to panic. By working closely with the team, communicating with staff, preparing the construction site and keeping safety as the number one priority, then you are as prepared as possible. Although it’s impossible to control severe weather systems, it is possible to minimize their negative impact.
Plan early and stay safe.
WorkSafe Global comprises a team of occupational safety and health specialists dedicated to improving workplace productivity and profitability through the creation and maintenance of safe systems of work. To learn more about our team and what we do, click here.
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