Safely…Upholding Quality in Delivering a Client’s Vision – Friday in the Field

Linn Newell
I sat down with Senior Marketing Coordinator Becki Iverson to discuss my experience providing project controls services in the Manufacturing industry, and what I’ve learned as a champion for our corporate policies regarding Quality, Safety, Security and Environmental (QSSE) concerns on-site.

Becki Iverson: So Linn, tell me about your role with Faithful+Gould.

I’ve been with Faithful+Gould for about eight years as a senior construction manager. I recently wrapped up work on a significant expansion of a nitrogen manufacturing facility that produces nitrogen-based plant nutrients for both agricultural and industrial use. The project is now complete, having been in the works since 2012. For me personally, it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience to see the finished product given all the time that we’ve spent working to get it up and running.

BI: How long were you working on this project?

I came on in 2013 and spent three years working countless hours on-site each week. I was originally under contract for just under a year of work but I ended up being extended for three years.

BI: That’s quite a jump in timeframe! How did that happen?

I established a thorough understanding of the entire project scope through first-hand experience. At the peak of construction, we had more than 4,500 people working on the project, but for the first six to eight months we had myself and two engineers covering an area that is almost 1,700 acres. That may sound daunting but it gave us time to establish a rapport and for me to develop an understanding of the full project scope, which in turn allowed the client to view me as a trusted advisor. That’s why I enjoy working in the field on projects like this one. I can get my hands dirty and see what's going on, catch errors and just generally get a better hold on the day-to-day life of the project and how that fits into the big picture.

BI: How did you use that understanding to benefit the project?  What were your responsibilities?

I would say the general versatility of my skillset was key to my success in this role. Basically, I was extended because I wasn’t limited to one area and was always able to step in where I was needed. When I started out with the complex, I thought I would be focused primarily in electrical controls, but there was a pretty organic extension of my services into the structural and civil aspects of the project. I was also heavily involved in the QSSE side. This is a personal area of expertise of mine and my attention to detail here proved to be a major asset to my overall service offering to the client.

Working in construction, we have a responsibility to keep the big picture of what we’re doing in sight and act responsibly to ensure our environmental impact is both minimal and sustainable...

BI: What did the QSSE aspect of this project entail?

Well when you say QSSE, you’re speaking to many different elements of a project, including both environmental safety and overall safety of those working on-site, among other things. This being a fertilizer plant, environmental concerns were of course a major concern of the client, which is a very environmentally conscious institution overall. As a large-scale construction project with more than 4,500 people coming in and out of the site at any given time, safety was hugely important and we couldn’t afford any careless mistakes. Industry-recognized environmental and safety practices are key components of both the client and Faithful+Gould’s corporate philosophies, so my added specialty in this area was put to good use.

BI: How did you become involved with the quality and safety side of construction?

I have always been an advocate for the importance of paying close attention to detail, especially when it comes to the safety of those working on-site. The stakes are simply too high and in my 30 years in construction I’ve seen too many careless mistakes made in the name of “shortcuts” that are not worth it. The same goes for the environmental side of things. Working in construction, we have a responsibility to keep the big picture of what we’re doing in sight and act responsibly to ensure our environmental impact is both minimal and sustainable. Since joining Faithful+Gould I’ve felt right at home in this respect, given our emphasis on strict QSSE standards.

BI: Tell me more about that, what is that emphasis?  

Our QSSE team, led by Vice President Mike Burnett, charges us with speaking up on-site and keeping the health and safety of everyone working with us on projects at the forefront of our work. That’s a cornerstone of our values as a company. We lead by example and work to consistently uphold industry standards for all elements of QSSE.

BI: What specific QSSE tasks were you assigned for you latest project?

In terms of safety, I was tasked with doing the QA/QC inspections through the very end of the project. Based on my safety inspections, I earned the nickname “Dr. No” from the guys around the site. I consider this a testament to how well I did my job. It’s not easy to always be the guy saying “no” but when it comes to something as serious as the health and safety of human beings, it’s necessary.

BI: Can you give me an example?

One case that comes to mind was when we were redoing the neutralization pits, ensuring that the concrete we had installed would hold up. For the portion of the project, we required everyone on-site to use respirators when going down into the pits because they would be encountering silica, which can be dangerous for your lungs. We had an individual who was going down into the pits without his respirator on. He was new on the project and I think looking to demonstrate what he could do by cutting corners with the required safety equipment, but considering these requirements are in place for a reason and supported by his company it was not the wisest choice. I had to quickly step in and put a stop to that.

Clients can relax, confident that we will be proactive and thorough for all QSSE matters...

Of course, as a project planner, I can understand the impulse to cut corners and save time. I’m always looking to get the work done quickly to my clients’ satisfaction, but safety has to remain paramount. I would never approve any measures that might put that in jeopardy. I’ve learned through my decades in this industry that in the long run “short cuts” will actually slow a project down with accidents. This has been the most important lesson I’ve learned after working on the QSSE side for many years. In the case of my most recent project, I am happy to report there was no lost time for any on-site accidents in the areas I worked on, which is no easy feat when working on a project of this scale.

BI: That is impressive! What about on the environmental side?

In general, you need to be ready to work with the governing authorities who monitor the environmental impact of construction. In this particular case, we were required to work closely with the Department of Natural Resources. They were regularly monitoring us to make sure we were handling all issues with the required sensitivity to the environment.

BI: How did you navigate working with these types of governmental authorities while keeping your client’s vision in mind?

Our ability to collaborate was key to making sure we stayed in line with all environmental protections. This idea ties into my working philosophy overall. I don't care what you know or what you think you know: it is critical to be able to coordinate and communicate with team members while working with other trades. The more you understand their perspective, the easier it will be to craft effective solutions to problems as they arise and the smoother the project will go.

In this case, it certainly helped that the department’s team was a great group and I enjoyed working with them. We saw eye to eye on the importance of what we were doing and they trusted me to deliver since I had been with the project from the beginning and saw the big picture of our impact. When the project was complete, the environmental authorities were satisfied, as was the client. You can’t really ask for much more than that.

BI: What would you say to someone starting out in providing QSSE services on projects like this?

Well, I’m living up to my nickname as Dr. No, so I would say, “don’t be afraid to say no!” If an inspection is going to have your name on it, it better be done right and you need to be confident and passionate enough in the work you’re doing that you can hold your ground. As I’ve said, I was lucky to have a client that maintains very high QSSE standards so we were mostly on the same page, but I was still responsible for ensuring that these standards were carried through for the entirety of the project. I had to be ready to push back. At Faithful+Gould, this mentality is standard for any of our projects, as championing QSSE is a major way we add value to our service offering. We recognize that we need to be diligent and ready speak up to ensure industry standards are upheld at all times. Clients can relax, confident that we will be proactive and thorough for all QSSE matters.

I understand that the notion of saying “no” to your client can be scary but I can assure you that when dealing with QSSE, the client has hired you to do just that. In the long term, the client will thank you. In this case, they sent me a pin, shaped like a horn. When you hit it, and it says, "No!" Thanks to this philosophy I oversaw a project with zero safety incidents; that’s the best reward I could have had.