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Safety starts with design. Well before shovels hit earth, contractors should be planning for a safe project.

Sometimes it’s the simple things that lead to marked improvements. Ring roads distribute traffic, keep the site clean, and help prevent congestion when multiple crews are on site. Rather than regularly regrading temporary roadways, a quality road built to accommodate heavy traffic from the start makes delivery and handling of materials work smoothly on a consistent and ongoing basis.

Other things are less simple. To really make marked improvements in safety, contractors must take a close look at what they’re doing and be willing to shake it up. It will often come with upfront costs but have long-term safety and quality benefits. Here are some of changes that can improve safety at the jobsite and quality of the project.

Keeping boots on the ground

Stick-built construction has long been the standard in commercial construction but it’s time consuming, labor intensive and creates more opportunities for on-site accidents and injuries. Heavy reliance on prefabrication can be transformative for safety at worksites. Off-site manufacturing makes on-site assembly come together quickly with less on-site labor and fewer moving parts, people and vehicles. Carefully organized rigging and setting of the building means there are no crews working around crane operations. All of this leads to a more controlled and safer jobsite.

Use of prefabricated plenums is a good proof point for how off-site manufacturing drives major improvements in safety. Prefabricated plenums can be installed on-site in less than a week, reducing onsite labor by 50% and eliminating the need to have people working at high heights over a sustained period on site.

Prefabricating much of the data center’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure has been another huge win. Large portions of the piping, duct and conduit at floor level can be preassembled and placed in larger, multi-discipline section, overhead. Previously, this work would be built using lifts, one conduit or pipe at a time. Assembly of these systems at waist level, then raising it up to be tacked in increases safety and quality and production

Another major opportunity to reduce risk and keep boots on the ground is through integrated color in precast components. Integrated color eliminates the need for painters on lifts, working above other crews. It also eliminates noxious fumes and the challenge of coordinating around painting activity. Integrated color lasts a lifetime; so, while it comes with some upfront costs, it’s another element that has long-term benefits.

Safety on high

Height equals risk. In addition to all the ways we manufacture offsite to keep on-site crews at ground level, a lot of attention must be paid to overhead activities as they relate to safety.

To start, a precast roof means the structural roof components arrive in single pieces that can be placed quickly and covered immediately to create a safe, dry, sheltered work environment faster than most other composite roofing designs. No work ever takes place under an incomplete and potentially unsafe roof.

Likewise, no leading-edge work, or work near an unprotected roof edge, is allowed. Parapets can be used for more than water distribution. Built to heights that meet OSHA standards for guardrail safety, the parapets make rooftop work safer and eliminate the need for cumbersome worker safety restraints. Once the parapet is set, there are no unsafe, leading edges. Parapet heights make construction and facility maintenance activities much safer and more efficient than having to tie-off while working on the roof.

In the ceiling, integrated pre-formed penetrations can help avoid field cutting, which is labor intensive and involves heavy equipment overhead—a less-than-optimal setting for precision work. Among other benefits of prefabricating, an embedded Unistrut, or metal framing system, in the precast ceiling eliminates any need to pneumatically shoot into the structure. So, for installation of the fire protection pipeline, for example, crews can hang from the Unistrut and it’s done. All these elements make it possible to minimize the need for overhead work with heavy tools.

Finally, using airside cooling means there is no rooftop equipment over the large data halls and associated holes over the building during construction, eliminating a major fall hazard and creating a more impermeable roof.

Go slow to go fast

To make positive changes, constantly question all potentially unsafe practices. Be open to change and the speedbumps that come with it. More often than not, the long-term gain will be more than worth the short-term strain.

This article is the fourth in a four-part series about the most-recent developments in construction’s cutting-edge technologies and best practices. Click here for part one, here for part two and here for part three.
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