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Safety is Top Concern at National Dredging Meeting

Speakers at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Dredging Meeting May 26 in Washington, D.C., devoted a great deal of time on funding, future dredging, quality management, communication, navigation and a number of other related areas. But topping the list of concerns expressed by dredgers had to be safety.

A highlight of the meeting was a presentation on dredging safety featuring Manson Construction Co., Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., and Weeks Marine Inc. Among the speakers were Glenn Thomas of Great Lakes Dredge & Dock; Michael M. Gerhardt, assistant executive director of Dredging Contractors of America; and Page Warde, safety director for Weeks Marine.

Promoting an Incident- and Injury-Free (IIF) work environment, a Manson-produced slide presentation emphasized the “personal side of safety.” That means “caring about one another, taking responsibility for one’s actions, committing to creating a safe work environment, and adopting the attitude that no injury is acceptable.”

IIF IS A MINDSET
IIF has been described as “a commitment, both personal and organizational, to create an environment absent of injury. It is not a goal, result or trophy to seek or acquire. It is, however, a mindset intolerant of any level, frequency of severity of injury.” Another explanation of IIF would be “caring about one another, taking responsibility for one’s actions, committing to creating a safe work environment, and adopting the attitude that no injury is acceptable.”

IIF presents three challenges to dredging crews: Watch for co-workers ‘asleep at the wheel,’ speak up when someone’s at risk, remain open to change when spoken to.

The slide presentation made clear that company leaders expect employees to use their common sense, to be vocal and to ask questions. Among other things, employees are not to proceed with an unsafe task. At the same time employees can count on management to back up a decision to stop a task, and to address a safety concern promptly. “If there is an injury, we will conduct an incident investigation in such a way that the person is not blamed,” employers pledged in their ‘no blame’ policy. “We need to learn from an incident so that we can eliminate a recurrence.”

IIF means taking dredging safety in a different direction—from the traditional to the transformational. For one thing, safety officers would not be perceived as “cops,” but as advisors to operations, and as members of the operations team. Some examples of IIF tools used at project sites include an increase in training programs, incident analysis and trends, safe work practices videos, project launch meetings with crew and management, safety performance weekly reports, IIF safety action alerts and bulletins, contactor safety stand-downs, pre-shift meetings, and site safety advisors partner with operations personnel.

Weeks Marine concluded with a statement that it is “committed to creating and sustaining an incident- and injury-free culture that ensures the well-being of every member of the Weeks Marine community.” Part of the “Manson Culture” includes the phrase, “We take care of people first and always,” and Great Lakes Dredge & Dock has a “Safety Commitment Statement” in which it says, “All GLDD employees are committed to an IIF work environment, in which we return safely to our families.”

TRADITIONAL MEASURES NOT WORKING
A number of factors apparently led some dredging contractors to IIF. According to another slide presentation referred to by representatives of Manson, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock and Weeks Marine, some dredging contractors were drawn to IIF because injury reduction was becoming more difficult to achieve, and employees were still getting injured even though their companies had traditional safety departments, systems, procedures and training in place. Then there were some pre-IIF attitudes about dredging safety. One of them was, “Hey, we work in rough offshore conditions with heavy floating equipment—people are going to get hurt.” Another cited by the speakers: “What do you expect—this is dredging.”

Some examples of IIF tools used at project sites would be more training programs, company-wide injury broadcasts, safe work practices videos, project launch meetings with crew and management and contractor safety stand-downs.

TRUST FUND ESSENTIAL TO MISSION
Discussing the Corps’ future dredging program was Jim Walker, chief of the Corps’ navigation branch, who listed several dredging goals: Maximize funds spent on moving material, optimize use of dredging equipment, and optimize contracting process development. Walker said if the “status quo” is maintained, the dredging program will be faced with declining funds and purchasing power, fewer maintained channels and with reduced depth and width. A full Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, he said, could double the program, provide new capital investments in equipment and better maintained channels, provide more maintained channels and open the way for more beneficial use of dredged material.

Walker recommended an assessment of the Corps’ inventory that would determine how many of the nearly 1,000 navigation projects are being actively maintained, and what would it take to fully maintain those projects. He looked for answers to a number of questions, such as what percent of maintenance dredging is presently being beneficially used; how long until channels cannot be maintained due to lack of adequate material placement; and what is the current material placement capacity.

Among the dozen speakers addressing the day-long program was Gary A. Loew, chief of the Corps’ Programs Integration Division, who said the Corps expects “a major debate on federal funding priorities” beginning with the fiscal year 2011 budget.

“We must seek to improve our budget ‘defense’ of the value to the nation of the water resources infrastructure for which we are responsible,” Loew said. “We must continue to place a high priority on execution of all that is
appropriated.”

Looking at a future “without change,” Loew said “our budgets will decrease relative to our need if we don’t do something different. “We will not be able to provide quality, responsive service to the nation if we cannot create support for a budget that more closely matches systems requirements. We will not be able to improve as an agency if we are not funded for efficient project planning, design, construction, and operations and maintenance.”

20-YEAR DREDGING PLAN
However, he said, assuming a budget of $1.6 billion, it would be possible to develop a 20-year port maintenance plan that would include dredging medium-sized ports and funding for a 20-year dredged material maintenance plan. Warning that there are “external trends to watch,” Loew said there would be continuing pressure on the budget by such entitlement programs as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and by interest on the national debt. Other trends to watch, he said, would include improved inspection techniques, modern design standards and the cost of construction inflating faster than the Consumer Price Index.

Loew also noted that budget problems are on the minds of a number of key leaders. For example, he quoted Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve System, that “to avoid…ultimately sustainable budget deficits, the nation will ultimately have to choose among higher taxes, modifications to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, less spending on everything else from education to defense, or some combination of the above.”

Still quoting Bernanke, Loew said that “unless we as a nation demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, in the longer run we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth.”

Ticking off “some lessons learned,” Loew said, “we have a history of poor programs and project management; inefficient planning, design and construction; time and cost growth on large Inland Waterway Transportation System projects.” Furthermore, he said, “our divisions, our Districts and our stakeholders identify with ‘projects’ and not ‘programs’ and we view our mission as a collection of ‘projects.’ Many stakeholders,” he added, “are not happy with USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).”

A SYSTEM FOR UNDERSTANDING THE MARKET
The benefits of the Dredging Information System (DIS) were discussed by Michael Gerhardt, assistant executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America (DCA), who said that DIS helps both the industry and the Corps
understand the market and perform trend analyses. DIS also assists a prospective small business to assess the market prior to entry and allows small businesses with limited resources to track data.

Also in attendance was Barry W. Holliday, executive director of DCA, who testified on Capitol Hill recently that America’s deep draft navigation system “is at a crossroads. The ability of our ports and harbors to support
the nation’s continuing growth in trade and in the defense of our nation, hinges on much-needed federal attention to unresolved funding needs that are derailing critical channel maintenance and deep draft construction projects of the water highways to our ports,” Holliday told the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee.

Noting that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund has a balance of about $5 billion, Holliday said that money collected for maintenance is not being used to address the backlog of necessary maintenance dredging.

“A fully funded dredging program would ensure that the Corps could properly plan and manage dredged material for potential beneficial uses and environmental restoration applications,” he said.

CHALLENGES IN THE NORTHEAST
George Nieves, operations program manager of the Corps’ North Atlantic Division, evaluated the dredging program in his Division. The objective in the North Atlantic Division, Nieves said, is to investigate ways in which the Division can better prepare for the future while ensuring that waterways are dredged so they are maintained in a safe and efficient condition. Dredging in the North Atlantic Division, he added, also faces a number of challenges, including the need to respond quickly to nor’easters and hurricanes along the Atlantic coast.

Nieves said that in his division, sufficient dredging work is expected to continue in the future to support shallow draft and congressionally directed work. Nieves said that in answer to increasing air and water quality standards, improved vessel efficiencies and reducing maintenance costs, the division is looking at repowering, use of biodiesels, vessel replacement, the use of software to track fleet maintenance, and continued dialogue between the Corps and the industry to maximize the utilization of fleet assets.

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