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Safety. When embarking on a major construction project, how many facility managers can honestly say that was the No. 1 priority, in spirit and in fact? The project team at EMD Serono Research Institute can. At every owner's meeting, it was the first item on the agenda, and a significant amount of time was spent reviewing every safety item. "Project safety culture is hard to build and hard to maintain, but pays dividends if you're disciplined," says Tony Meenaghan, senior director, U.S. facilities, engineering, and EHS at EMD Serono.
The project was a 140,000-square-foot expansion to the Billerica, Mass., campus, a research and development lab focused on cancer, fertility, neurodegenerative diseases and rheumatology. The goal of the expansion was to consolidate the area's three research sites to facilitate collaboration among the scientists.
There was a vision to create a "life-cycle safety in design" process that would create a safety culture during both construction and operation, says Meenaghan. To that end, in 2009, 36 project team members attended a safety course at Harvard University. During construction, there were weekly safety inspections, safety training completed by everyone on the jobsite, weekly talks focusing on safety topics and prizes given for promoting safety on the job. The result was significant: 370,000 man hours with zero OSHA-recordable injuries.
Safety was also built in to the infrastructure of the building, having effects during construction and into operations. The steel frame was designed to be delivered with beam seats welded in place, ready to accept cross members. Safety railings were set up earlier than at a typical worksite. Instead of installing traditional air handling units with a single high-horsepower motor, they chose a fan wall solution with individual low-horsepower fans that a single person can change out. In the plant room, there is a seven foot high by seven foot wide corridor which provides access to everything. Whenever possible, valves were placed to be accessed without need for a ladder.
Meenaghan admits that all of these precautions required additional investments and that it is not at all typical of an American jobsite, as compared to the United Kingdom where the owner and architect are personally liable for fatalities on job sites. "I had some people think we were crazy, but we agreed to a set of rules, and we all played by the rules," Meenaghan says. In the first few weeks, they had to let go some key people they would have liked to retain because they couldn't abide by the safety program. In the end, however, it was all well-worth the effort, he says.
"How do you value somebody's life or arm or leg?" Meenaghan says. "Whatever amount of money you put into that safety program, it's nothing compared to losing somebody's life. And as an owner, I am no way ever going to be responsible for that. At least, I'll try my hardest never to be in that position."
As important as safety was to the project, it was far from the only goal. The project was completed on an accelerated 19-month schedule, came in under budget and earned a LEED Gold rating.
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