Work Force Safety

When a country’s most profitable industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of residents, also happens to be known for its risks, there are always new and unique ways to better protect those who drive the industry’s success.

According to the Mining Association of Canada, Canada’s gross domestic product in the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction sector was $51.5 billion in 2009. The country exported a total of $66 billion in metals that same year. Canada is home to the most “top 100” mining companies in the world, and more than 115 communities throughout the country depend on the mining industry for jobs and a healthy economy.

Additionally, Canada’s oil industry is second only to Saudi Arabia in the world. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, oil sands now account for more than half of western Canada’s total oil production. The country’s oil sands industry has already spent $50 billion on oil sands construction in the last decade. By 2025, Canadian oil sands production is expected to rise from about 1.3 million barrels per day to about 3.3 million barrels per day.

In fact, the mining industry accounts for approximately one out of every 50 Canadian jobs. As a whole, mining and mineral processing directly employed 306,000 workers in 2009. While profitable for the country, the work is dangerous, and it is imperative that Canada continues to take steps to protect its workers.

Workers confront countless risks every day. Open-pit mining utilizes large-scale blasting, which can result in dangerous shards of fly-rock. Coal mining is also hazardous, as methane is release from the rock strata as the ground is mined. Methane is highly explosive, and some of Canada’s worst mining disasters have occurred as a result of a methane explosion.

Construction and mining companies have sought new ways to protect workers, while legislation has been passed to the same effect. Most construction companies now make employee safety their highest priority and have started to ask for products that will go above and beyond to ensure that accidents are kept at a minimum.

Perhaps the most important solution for worker safety in these sites is the blast-resistant module (BRM). BRMs are constructed of solid steel and are designed to withstand a large blast, fire or flying debris in the wake of an accident. They can be used in mining, petrochemical or high-risk construction zones where there is a danger of explosion or fire.

Blast-resistant buildings are fairly new. The American Petroleum Institute did not establish guidelines until 1997, and use of BRMs did not fully take hold until around 2005. This was after a BP refinery explosion and fire occurred in Texas City, where 15 workers lost their lives and 180 more were injured. After this catastrophe, a U. S. Chemical Safety Board report found that BP had failed to heed or implement safety measures before the blast, and the majority of workers fell victim to flying debris and building pressure.

As a result, guidelines were pushed through to encourage use of BRMs and to establish rules regarding the proximity of buildings to potential blast zones. The mining and petrochemical industries are still just beginning to understand the benefits of BRMs.

As companies increasingly discover the myriad benefits of BRMs, including both the safety and increased efficiency that results, many want to be on the leading edge of this growing trend.

Benefits of BRMs

While blast-resistant modules have been around for years, today’s buildings have become increasingly customizable and high-tech. A common misconception about BRMs is that they are small steel boxes with a desk and some chairs. Many of today’s BRMs are comfortably outfitted to suit such specific needs as break rooms, offices and restrooms, and can safely house up to 50 workers in single-unit configurations. Many BRMs are wired for Internet access and plug-and-play capabilities, allowing for faster, easier on-site administrative, personnel and project management.

In addition to safety, smart project managers will invest in BRMs for their financial benefits. High-risk sites without BRMs must bus workers away from the blast zone to a safe location for breaks, lunch and even restroom use. As these safe zones are mandated to be far away from the blast site, construction and mining managers are forced to waste precious time transporting workers as far as 45 minutes away, resulting in an almost two-hour round-trip for a five-minute bathroom break. As this occurs every day on the site, worker productivity is cut down and profits are severely reduced.

The closer employees can stay to the blast zone, the more workers stay productive. BRMs allow construction workers and site managers to accelerate construction and ensure that project managers will be able to adhere to a project timetable. Though blast-resistant modules may seem expensive, savings are significant compared to the alternative investment in man-hours, equipment rentals and the many other costs involved in extended construction times.

BRMs are also a worthy long-term investment. BRMs were originally usually used for shutdown and turnaround efforts in a project. We are now seeing more instances where the equipment is being retained after the shutdown and turnaround period of closing a refinery or location for use on another site or for the duration of a new project.

BRMs also can be used to store expensive equipment. In the result of an explosion, this can save thousands of dollars in property losses if unused equipment is safely stored in a BRM.

Selecting the Right BRM

So, what should construction managers look for in a BRM? The first thing to seek out is a high pounds-per-square-inch (PSI) rating. The higher the PSI, the safer workers will be in the event of an accident. For example, ModSpace’s solid-steel BRMs are engineered to withstand an initial blast rating of 8 PSI side-on pressure for 200 milliseconds, the highest available blast rating. Fire ratings should also be analyzed. BRMs need to be fully insulated and have a fire rating of one hour or more.

A secure BRM should be constructed with crimped steel walls and flat plate roofs for maximum strength. Doors should also be certified blast resistant with certified hardware. You should check to see if the product you are looking at is approved by an engineering firm that certifies blast-resistant modules, such as Baker Engineering and Risk Consultants. BakerRisk is an internationally recognized firm that specializes in predicting, preventing and mitigating hazards from explosions, fires and toxic releases. Most high-risk products that are currently on the market seek their seal of approval. Doors should also be CSA International Field and Canadian Welding Bureau approved.

Customizability should also be investigated when choosing the proper BRM for your needs. Workers are more productive if they are happy. They should not feel as if they are being put into a less-than-comfortable workspace or merely sitting in an office space that protects them from the elements. The interior of BRMs can be designed to be aesthetically pleasing as well as space efficient so workers can relax and charge their batteries before returning to work.

In addition to comfortable interiors, construction managers also should research the types of HVAC equipment that are used in BRMs. No matter where you are in Canada, you’re either going to have to deal with harsh winters or hot summers, or both. High-quality HVAC equipment that is commonly used in conventional modular buildings should be installed to ensure that workers are comfortable. Additionally, barring a blast, a BRM is reusable from site to site.When choosing a BRM, research how they arrive to a construction area. BRMs are heavy, weighing anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 pounds. Some are easily transported to virtually any location via tilt-bed or live roll truck. Others can only be installed using small cranes, which can be costly. Finally, keep soundproofing in mind when searching for the BRM that best suits your needs. Many BRMs are fully insulated and have remarkable soundproofing qualities so the interior remains quiet.

BRMs are not required on sites yet, but legislation is starting to appear that will make them a requirement. Facilities, site and safety managers that have cost efficiency and safety in mind should consider supplying BRMs for all sites with the potential for a blast. For a relatively low investment, a blast-resistant module can be the difference between life and death in the wake of an accident.

Ben Taylor is the director of Western Canada ModSpace. Contact him at ben.taylor@modspace.com or at 780-990-2258.

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