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Nick Warburton is former editor of SHP Magazine. He is currently working as a freelance journalist and as an account manager at Technical Publicity.
July 28, 2015

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Integrated health approach

Photo copyright: Crossrail

Crossrail Farringdon. Photo copyright: Crossrail

James Barnes works on several Crossrail sites advising project contractors Bam Ferrovial Kier on occupational health and hygiene. He offers Nick Warburton an insight into his challenges on site.

James Barnes had a good insight into the occupational health standards on Crossrail even before he joined the Bam Ferrovial Kier’s (BFK) teams at Crossrail’s Farringdon, Tottenham Court Road, Bond Street and Fisher Street sites in late 2012.

Employed by Park Health and Safety Partnership, the occupational hygienist was an integral member of the team that set the benchmark for occupational health at London 2012.

Crossrail took up much of this trailblazing work before preliminary construction began on Europe’s largest infrastructure project later that same year.

Sitting in his office at Farringdon’s western ticket hall, James explains that some Crossrail contractors like BFK and Dragados Sisk Joint Venture (DSJV) (where his colleague Eric Ball advises on occupational health and hygiene) were impressed by Park Health and Safety’s innovative worker, workplace and wellbeing (3Ws) programme and wanted to tap into its expertise.

“Having worked with some of these contractors previously, they were more aware of the approach we took,” he says.

“[Our approach] was, ‘These hygienists will be responsible for the management of your health risks on site. They’ll take it from start to finish. They’ll not only identify the risks, they will also recommend what needs to be done and check that it is working. The whole plan-do-review process associated with risk management rather than the ineffective approach of someone’s feeling ill; so we need to do some dust monitoring to check if that’s the issue’.”

From the outset, Park Health and Safety wanted to be an integrated part of the construction site teams rather than act as an external consultancy service on a retainer. Arguably, the overriding benefit of this arrangement is that the occupational hygienists have developed strong relationships with the respective site teams.

Employed to work at Farringdon two days a week (and the rest of the time on separate BFK contracts at Tottenham Court Road, Bond Street and Fisher Street), James initially advised the project’s design teams on ‘designing out’ occupational health risks at the pre-construction phase back in 2011.

“We did a lot of workshops with Crossrail designers to give them the knowledge and confidence, so that they could design out risk,” he explains.

“It wasn’t so much about the specific risks that were designed out but the principles of them, so understanding what the hazards are associated with certain construction activities.”

James explains that much of the focus was on highlighting the activities that create dust and how work could be designed to minimise exposure.

“It’s about getting designers to understand what silica is,” he continues. “They don’t need to know the technical detail, an appreciation of the risk; that link between cause and effect.”

Unique challenges

His previous experience at London 2012 has enabled him to transfer much of his knowledge to Crossrail but as the project has progressed, James has often been faced with unique challenges that he’s never faced before. Tunnelling is a case in point.

“I had to learn quite quickly what tunnelling involves and from that use my experience to assess what the risks are,” he says. “We’ve got to a point where we are comfortable about where our major occupational health risks are.

“The things you learn as a hygienist is quite incredible, especially as a consultant. You see so many different sites and you learn a lot about many different things. The risks that individuals on site face vary so much.”

James is responsible for the occupational hygiene work for everyone at Farringdon, including office-based staff, although he does have support from another occupational hygienist. He estimates that there are about 725 people working on the site at the moment. However, because he’s only at Farringdon two days a week, he tries to spend as much time as possible on the construction site.

As the project has moved on from the design stage to the physical construction, his role has changed accordingly. Initially, he focused on measuring exposures, to quantify the risk associated with different tasks. Another of his responsibilities is reviewing the risk assessment and method statement (RAMS) for any health-related issues.

“What often happens is when the safety advisers for each of the site teams get the RAMS through and they think there’s an occupational health-related issue, they will forward it on to me for comment as well,” he says.

His role starts with initial engagement with site teams about what type of work is coming up. With so much subterranean tunnelling work going on, it’s perhaps not surprising that ventilation is a common issue that requires his attention.

“We have a lot of tunnels and cross passages here, so we have quite an intricate ventilation system to reduce exposure to dust,” he explains.

“I am not an expert in ventilation design but we have a ventilation engineer on site so I liaise with him on a regular basis to let him know if there are any issues.”

Steel fixing creates significant occupational health risks (Photo copyright: Crossrail)

Steel fixing creates significant occupational health risks (Photo copyright: Crossrail)

As his role has broadened out, James has increasingly been involved in reviewing and revising procedures. For instance, he has designed an air quality management plan for the sprayed concrete lining team in the tunnels as well as an air monitoring plan and control regime for the site team to use.

“Based on the initial measurement work I did, I was able to design this plan alongside the team,” he says. “It sits there as an overarching document about what we actually do to manage the risk on the site. It’s fairly good because it includes the rest of the site team as well.”

The tunnels team has now been issued with its own real-time dust measuring devices, so that James doesn’t have to go down to the tunnels and take constant measurements for them. Not only can the site teams take measurements themselves but they now have a plan in place to take action should there be an issue.

James underlines the fact that being part of the site team has meant he has contributed significantly to all aspects of health management. For instance, he gets much more involved in the risk assessments for the other site teams, like the ticket hall gangs, for instance, who have been doing concrete pours with its own unique risks.

“The other teams have quite a few more individual risk assessments and method statements as the tasks do chop and change quite a lot, whereas with the tunnelling teams, especially when they have been doing sprayed concrete lining work, it has been a similar activity for 18 months,” he says.

What this means in practice is that different teams on the site are working different shift patterns, and this brings its own challenges in terms of fatigue.

“We have got involved in doing all of the fatigue risk assessments for the different teams and the fatigue management plans,” he says.

“As they chop and change, depending on what work is required, the number of people on site or the hours that they work will be altered. We ensure that fatigue isn’t a risk, and that assessments have been done before any change in shift pattern occurs to make sure that everybody understands the risks.”

While most of the tunnelling work is done mechanically, there is a certain amount of hand-arm vibration exposure when individuals undertake hand excavation work. The team uses German Jiggers, small five-kilo hand-breakers.

“The important point to remember with all these health risks is that we co-ordinate ourselves with the occupational health team throughout,” he stresses.

“It’s not just a case of identifying the risk on site and implementing the recommendations there, we also drive and dictate what health surveillance is required above and beyond the norm.”

Health surveillance

As part of the general site induction, there is a medical health surveillance check, which starts with a questionnaire. However, depending on the job role, there is also a more robust medical for more safety critical roles such as crane drivers. After the clinical team has completed this, James will then advise on any additional health surveillance that is needed for certain individuals to monitor how an exposure might be affecting them.

One of the main benefits of having an occupational hygienist on site and part of the construction team is that they will usually develop a strong rapport with the front-line workers. James says this is incredibly beneficial as it enables him to explain to the people who really matter what the risks are and how they can manage them.

“It’s all very well and good explaining to the management team, ‘This is what you need to do’ but if the guys on site don’t really understand why we are asking them to do certain things, it’s never going to be 100 per cent effective,” he argues.

“We do a series of regular toolbox talks with the workers on site on health topics relevant to them at the time, depending on the work being done and also feedback any results from the monitoring being done. We are open and honest with the teams.”

James adds that some of the most successful toolbox talks have been around manual handling where he’s taken the workforce to the location where work is being done and discussed how best to proceed.

“They know more about the work than I do. There is no point in me standing there and dictating to them, ‘This is how you bend’. They go through all sorts out there in difficult circumstances, so we do a stand-down talk and go, ‘We need to move this from here to here, this is actually what you’re doing today as part of your work. How do we do this safely and healthily?’

“Most of the time, they have a good idea of how to do it properly. It’s just that they haven’t had the courage or the incentive to do otherwise. It’s not been put into the front of their minds.”

Interestingly, when he walks around the site and talks to the workforce, he will often find that workers approach him to raise issues.

“They will say, ‘It’s a bit dusty down there today, can you take a look?’ Of course, I can go and have a look and what we do to resolve it depends on the extent of the issue. But it’s about having that trust and that relationship with them, and you get to find out a lot more about what’s going on around the site.

James also feels that his presence has a more long-term positive effect as workers that have experienced the benefits of an occupational hygienist on site will often expect similar standards when they move to their next project.

“Once you start putting dust monitoring equipment on guys and explaining what you are doing, and they start to think, ‘People are looking out for me’, they become a lot more forthright about coming forward with any concerns that they have because they know it can be looked at,” he argues.

“It’s not a risk that they have to put up with. It can be changed and made better. Not hiding away information about the monitoring that you’ve done has been a great way to interact with the guys on site and help them understand the issues.”

But James also has an excellent relationship with the site management team and produces formal reports to outline what measures have been taken.

Farringdon site. Photo credit: Crossrail

Farringdon site. Photo credit: Crossrail

Transition period

Looking to the future, the Farringdon site is in a transitional stage, he says. The tunnels team is now well underway with secondary lining activities. The ticket hall teams are now in the process of building up the ticket hall boxes.

“The work scope is changing and the risks are changing again,” he says, concluding. “The risks have been fairly similar from week to week and now we’ve got to reassess the risks that we’ve got and make sure our focus is in the right areas.

“As the project progresses and the station boxes are built up, that will pose its own risk, especially noise and ventilation issues. In the tunnels, the nature of the work differs quite a lot. That’s where we’re going in the next six months – constantly reassessing the risks as the works change.

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In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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