Interiors of buildings the focus of current activity
© Elizabeth MacDonald photo
A storage facility being constructed at the Long Harbour wharf for Vale.
Whether walking down Copper Street or driving a crane along Nickel Road, construction workers at the site of Vale's nickel processing facility in Long Harbour were decked out in reflective vests, safety goggles, gloves and steel-toed boots as reporters were given a grand tour of the site Monday.
The fact none of the workers were without the protective gear might have been a show for the media, but their reactions suggested not too many knew the tour was coming around on this particular day.
There are now about 3,000 workers active at the site, employed under 25 contractors. The numbers will grow this summer, maxing out at about 4,000 workers before the end of the construction season. Despite the large numbers, safety has not fallen by the wayside.
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Before being allowed onto the Long Harbour site, all visitors go through a standard safety presentation. It is an abbreviated version of the orientation on-site workers must go through.
More than 7,300 people have been through the orientation. According to environment, health and safety manager for the project, Craig Ryan, by the time construction is complete, the total will be 13,000.
Next, before being allowed to enter, visitors and workers must gear up with personal protective equipment.
Between comments from the management and the deluge of safety posters and notices, it quickly becomes clear safety comes first - or you will be thrown off the site.
"We don't believe in the fishermen tans," Ryan tells reporters while running through the dress code. Long pants and shirts with long sleeves are to be worn at all times, regardless of the temperature outside. The same goes for gloves.
Contractors are given a list of safe work practices and a separate list of safe job procedures to follow.
Out around, potential trip and fall hazards are marked with yellow caution tape, while rough metal edges are covered with thick layers of duct tape.
Each morning, workers have a pre-work "toolbox talk" time, for a chance to consider near-miss events and look at hazards specific to the coming day's work.
Risk assessments are completed for each work area and filed with management.
Provincial safety standards have been surpassed in many cases by standards on the Vale site. Fall protection equipment, for example, must be used when working at a height of six feet at Long Harbour, versus the provincial standard of about nine feet.
Among the contract workers coming onto the site, Ryan said, there have been "a couple of eggs we've had to crack" in regards to following rules and regulations, but all problems are dealt with.
The overall safety management system seems to be paying off. As of April 15, it has been a year without a lost time incident. There has been one such incident since the start of site work in April 2009.
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When the lunch break kicks in during the media tour, about a dozen workers corral themselves in a nearby "smoke pit" - created with orange webbing encircling wooden posts. No smokers wander outside the pens.
Tumbleweed trash sometimes found around construction sites is nowhere to be seen.
With a distinct sense of order, work at the site is chugging along. The basic building structures are all but complete and the focus is transitioning to interior instrumentation.
The building guts are broken up into main pieces, some 260 modules. To date, about 70 have been installed. More modules arrived by barge Monday from fabrication sites along the the Gulf of Mexico.
Project director Rinaldo Stefan highlighted the delivery of two "autoclaves," weighing about 250 tonnes apiece.
"Think of them as pressure cookers, where the concentrate is converted from a solid state into a solution," he said.
If there is a hurdle on the horizon, it would be "craft attraction" - the need for workers in certain skilled trades. Pipefitters and large crane operators are already in demand.
"The shortage of skilled labour is actually an absolutely critical concern for every employer out there," Stefan said.
The Telegram was told jobs unable to be filled locally or nationally will likely be filled with an expansion of the worker search to the eastern United States.
Construction at Long Harbour is expected to be completed in May or June of 2013.