How Balfour Beatty Takes a Multifaceted Approach to Weather Preparedness
Christophe Diaz is vice president of safety, health and the environment for the Balfour Beatty US Buildings division in Florida and Eric Yates is the environmental health and safety manager for the company’s US civilian division in North Carolina. Opinions are those of the authors.
The hurricane season in the Atlantic is underway and year after year record severe weather events impact the country’s coastal areas near the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
Hurricanes can be unpredictable and it takes a dedicated, experienced and well-prepared entrepreneur to anticipate a storm. From property and property damage to production downtime and salvage costs, inclement weather not only threatens the success of construction projects, but also puts human safety at risk.
As an infrastructure contractor with jobs across the country, Balfour Beatty leverages best practices and supports the collaborative execution of storm preparedness plans across a wide range of project types and geographies.
Through effective planning, the use of innovative technologies and taking precautions to secure active construction sites, Balfour Beatty’s Zero harm Storm Preparedness Approach equips our teams for the unpredictable and keeps the safety of our team members, partners, the public and our owners’ projects in mind.
Safety in bad weather
At Balfour Beatty, planning for storm preparedness always begins before you put the first shovel in the ground. Severe weather is often unpredictable, and storms can intensify and change course quickly. It is therefore essential that project teams are familiar with proactive storm procedures to act quickly and safely when the unexpected approaches.
Every part of our business across the country experiences distinctly unique weather conditions where we build. Our regional teams structure the delivery of projects according to the climatic conditions they may be confronted with during and after construction. The way we build in one part of the country is different from the way we build in another, and the expertise of our local teams in their respective regions has made projects successful and safe in various weather conditions. .
The priority to the safety of team members, partners and the public remains constant throughout the operations of Balfour Beatty. In the event of severe weather, our teams disseminate safety information to project teams and their families, including emergency contacts, shelter locations, and a checklist of action items and key supplies. Teams also ensure that potentially hazardous equipment and materials are securely secured to mitigate the risk of endangering those who may come into contact with our work.
Securing high-risk equipment
At any point in a project schedule, crews may need to secure tower cranes, bulk materials, electronics, computers, scaffolding, crawler cranes, lattice boom cranes, and rebar columns to protect the workforce, the project and the public.
Tower cranes require an additional level of planning. When selecting the appropriate tower crane, teams should first determine if it can withstand the wind speed of a potential storm system. For Category 4 hurricanes like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Florence, sustained winds can vary between 130 mph and 156 mph depending on the Hurricane Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. In the face of storms of this magnitude, project teams must take appropriate precautions to secure or dismantle tower cranes safely.
Designed as a weather vane, the proper tower crane can withstand high wind speeds if it is allowed to rotate freely with the wind during a severe weather event. Every aspect of our operations is focused on the wind cycles of storms and preparing for the safe mobility of cranes in extreme weather conditions.
Balfour Beatty teams work together with experienced engineers who help monitor construction equipment and can advise a crane’s wind capacities based on the weather forecast. If an on-site crane cannot withstand the projected wind speeds of an impending storm, we may choose to reduce the overall height or even consider dismantling it.
Our team members factor the removal and assembly of cranes into project schedules and budgets to mitigate any potential loss of production time or additional project costs. However, during severe storms, tower crane owners have several pieces of equipment to prepare in the planned area, and disassembly and assembly comes at an additional cost. By incorporating these urgent elements into the project planning stages and being aware of the weather forecast, Balfour Beatty ensures our teams are empowered to take quick and decisive action.
For highways, long span bridges and other civil infrastructure projects, caterpillars and lattice dams are logistically moved out of low areas, and lattice dams are fixed to the ground to prevent damage from storms. On water and wastewater projects, tower cranes can also be dismantled depending on expected winds and their technical limitations.
In the event of a hurricane, wind and rain, the support reinforcement columns are also part of the preparation for operations and require additional monitoring when a storm approaches a job site or if a storm changes course.
Execute stormwater and erosion control devices
In the event of heavy rains, flooding and increasing seawater problems, stormwater controls are necessary to keep projects sustainable and free from erosion and pollution.
For US Buildings operations, sandbags are placed around the perimeter of construction sites to divert turbid and muddy floodwaters and prevent pollution of local waterway systems. Projects located in the coastal plains also experience low and high tide levels that can quickly cause flooding. Continuous dewatering checks may be necessary to ensure that the infrastructure is safely above ground and protects against corrosion of building foundations.
It only takes a few inches of rain for a flood to have a dramatic impact on the timing and delivery of a construction project and these rain events do not necessarily have to occur at the project site. Heavy rains upstream can impact our downstream operations. We find that researching historical flood data in the project area gives us a good idea of ââwhat to expect.
Our infrastructure business relies heavily on our erosion control devices to mitigate erosion and sediment in low lying areas. In the event of heavy rains and flooding on our highway and bridge span projects, we take additional measures to prevent silt from entering streams or large bodies of water. “
Flooding and erosion can have devastating effects on job sites and require extensive and well-executed quality control measures to protect projects from damage. A holistic approach on the bridge to mitigate the risk of flooding, sediment and erosion is used to quickly dewater a construction site and return to work as soon as possible safely.
Improved real-time forecasting and monitoring systems have dramatically improved storm preparedness. These innovative tools can alert our staff nearly 10 days before severe weather events, giving crews ample time to perform storm preparedness procedures.
Our teams have many years of experience securing a safe construction site to protect our workforce, projects and the public. We review storm preparedness protocols at our job sites throughout the year for all weather types and several times a year for tropical storms and hurricanes. With the help of forecasting technology, we can accurately locate a storm ‘It’s location 24/7, and this is even more useful if storm tracks change so we can be nimble to safely adjust our operations accordingly.
The teams are also leveraging drone technology for aerial surveillance and inspections as storms unfold. Before the initial impact, teams capture 360-degree videos and images of entire project sites and use these images as a benchmark to assess post-storm jobsites. After storms have passed, drones fly over construction sites to accurately locate and document damage such as erosion, flooding, and loose material. The drone images also provide key information on when it is safe to allow our workforce to return to the job site.
Communication is a key priority in inclement weather. To effectively communicate thunderstorm forecasts, project status, safety protocols and the status of project operations, text alert systems are used to quickly disseminate updates to our teams and partners located in areas of potential impact. In the event of intense lightning, these communication tools help inform team members and partners of lightning stops and when to seek shelter before a thunderstorm approaches.
Planning for severe weather events requires different methods of executing storm preparedness measures for highway, bridge, sewage and construction projects. Balfour Beatty works with its operational teams in the United States as they experience extreme weather conditions in various geographies. These diverse attributes in our industries create dynamic strategies that help us safely and efficiently complete construction projects.