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The Bayhead Road upgrade – an exceptional example of safety achievement ‘against all odds’

Bayhead Road upgrade

Bayhead Road, a key feeder road to the port of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, is one of the highest volume heavy vehicle traffic routes in the world, and also the most heavily trafficked road in the Southern Hemisphere. Consequently, any construction on this route is fraught with road safety challenges, a situation which is compounded by the close proximity of railway lines, with associated overhead high voltage traction equipment, and active fuel gas pipelines.

Despite these significant obstacles, Transnet Capital Projects (TCP) undertook a two-year upgrade of this road to relieve growing congestion levels and support a commercial ports system that is globally competitive, safe and secure.

This involved the construction of over 2 100 m of dual carriageway road, with a new central median and sidewalks, as well as associated storm water and street lighting; re-aligning key intersections; constructing two formal truck staging areas with approximately 140 bays; a new road over rail bridge and the refurbishment of the existing bridge; and the relocation of a pollution control building all against a backdrop of maintaining full public and stakeholder access through the site at all times.

The R270 million-upgrade commenced in September 2010 and was completed two years later, during September 2012.

Against all odds, the project team managed to achieve an incredible Zero Lost Time Injuries (LTIs) on completion of the project, and over 1 000 000 Lost Time-free man-hours. Not surprisingly, the project won the 2012 TCP Group Executive award for Safety, on top of being named the ‘Runner up for Project of the Year’.

A priority for the Aurecon leadership team is the continual development of a health and safety culture that is market-leading and focuses on both lead and lag indicators. Fundamental to this is the further development of our culture as one that cares about our people and our clients’ people.

Aurecon, who fulfilled the role of construction manager and client agent, including providing full-time safety representation on site, now explores with key members of the TCP project team the exceptional commitment to safety an achievement like this demands, as well as the key project success factors required to achieve such impressive safety outcomes on a project of this scale.

A picture of the Aurecon and Transnet team

From left to right: Koos Louw, Aurecon Office Manager, eThekwini; Graham Landon, Transnet Capital Projects’ Project Manager; Jabu Tlou, Transnet Capital Projects’ Safety Manager; Mark Perkins, Aurecon Safety Supervisor

This interview was conducted by Phil Hendricks, Aurecon’s Industry Director – Transport.

Phil: How significant are the TCP Group Executive awards and what does a project have to achieve to be selected for an award amongst hundreds of others?

Graham: The TCP Group Executive awards are TCP’s most prestigious accolades awarded to absolute best-of-best examples of all of the national and regional projects undertaken annually. Award-winning projects have to demonstrate exceptional achievement in their particular category, such as achieving an industry- or company-first.  In particular Project of the Year awards are especially difficult to achieve as you need to meet all the criteria before even being considered, including schedule, scope, safety and budget. 

Phil: How important is safety to TCP?

Jabu: Safety is paramount to TCP. It is a non-negotiable. All of our employees, from our contractors to our project managers, understand that safety is our number one agenda. Our annual performance reviews include scoring employees on safety, and, what’s more, safety has been incorporated into our company values. In terms of the Bayhead Road Upgrade specifically, safety was one of the key criteria used to evaluate prospective partners. We require all of our partners to satisfy our safety criteria.

Graham: TCP’s target disability injury rate is 0.25, which is considerably more demanding than that used in our civil engineering construction industry; rates are 0.40. This is proof we are doing things differently!

Phil: What gave the Bayhead Road Upgrade an edge in the ‘Safety Champion of the year’ category?

Graham: In terms of distinguishing factors, The Bayhead Road Upgrade was identified as an extremely high-risk project right from the outset. During the FEL1 and 2 stages, a risk workshop was held and at that workshop, no less than 30 significant risks were identified.

The most serious of these included the need for deep excavations in sandy, water-logged reclamation material; working adjacent to and over active railway lines; working adjacent to and amidst heavy traffic; the site being large and in the public domain; and the sensitive services from the adjacent National Key Point (fuel, gas, fibre optic and electrical) interfacing with the construction plant and activities.
On any given project, including measures to achieve the general mitigation of risk is absolutely key, but in this case, each of the many risks identified required a detailed, proven risk mitigation strategy because of the serious consequences of not addressing each risk.

Despite significant risks, the project team still managed to achieve an incredible Zero Lost Time Injuries (LTIs) on completion of the project, and over 1 000 000 Lost Time free man-hours. This is almost unheard of on projects of this scale and complexity.

Jabu: Controlling safety is an onerous and difficult task, and having competent support from an experienced team is absolutely critical. Aurecon’s close involvement in terms of providing full-time safety representation on site was key to our success. Just one of this project’s distinguishing factors included finding solutions to challenges on site immediately, as they arose. This on-the-ground input allowed us to solve issues quickly and ensured behaviors or practices that didn’t comply with safety expectations were immediately quelled. This also speaks of empowering safety representatives to take immediate decisions when required.

Phil: Which qualities did TCP look for when appointing a full-time safety representative on site?

Jabu: We were looking for a company who really understands safety and has a proven background in maintaining safety by actively and consistently driving rules and interventions.

Coupled to this, strong administrative skills were also key as we are required to administrate our safety practices closely.

In addition, actual on-site experience was very important, especially as the Bayhead Road Upgrade involved such a high number of man hours to supervise in a high-risk environment.

Phil: Is there anything unique about the approach which the project team took to safety on site? 

Graham: I think ‘on-site experience’ is an absolutely critical point, Jabu. Aurecon recognised this need, and ensured that experienced safety personnel formed part of their team.

Aurecon’s Assistant Project Manager, a very seasoned safety practitioner, had very unique ways in which he reinforced safety on site. At times, we had up to 250 general workers on site, yet every single worker knew exactly who the construction manager was.

TCP has a safety mascot – a Meerkat called “Zero”. We promote this Meerkat through active campaigns, including those which target our workers. It’s significant that whenever the workers saw the Assistant Project Manager on site, they would assume a Meerkat pose in jest and even took to calling him “The Meerkat”. This is symbolic of the positive presence a safety-conscious individual can have on site. Meerkat means ‘my brother’s keeper’, and Aurecon was determined to enforce this philosophy on site.

Mark: Graham makes a critical point about reinforcing TCP’s existing safety messaging.

There is a TCP video which explains the reasons for choosing the Meerkat as a mascot, and we ensured all of the workers and site staff watched it and understood it.

Part of Aurecon’s pro-active, as opposed to reactive, approach to safety included recognising workers and staff who espoused good safety practices. This included handing out personally made informal safety award ‘trophies’ using everyday site items – such as a red paint-bloodied boot with a nail through it. This light-hearted recognition went a long way to motivating people on site and reinforcing positive behavior and safety culture.

Phil: Can you describe how some of the main safety challenges on site were addressed?

Mark: Bayhead Road is frequented by a massive numbers of 22 m long super link trucks. At any given time, these trucks carry either 6 m and 12 m boxes simultaneously, or even bulk commodity products or hazardous cargo such petrochemicals. Mitigating the possible risks this implied took careful planning, detailed construction signage, traffic calming measures, such as temporary deviations and speed humps, close cooperation with the eThekwini Metro Police and stakeholders, and, of course, ensuring a heavy-duty tow truck was on hand at all hours for possible breakdowns.

Another serious safety challenge was the deep excavations in sandy, water-logged material in order to install pipe protection culverts around live fuel and gas pipelines. To combat the potentially dangerous collapse of sand, we undertook extensive dewatering for excavations deeper than 1.5 m (below the water table), as well as made use of sheet piling. Regular inspections and monitoring during this process were keys to identifying and mitigating risk.

In terms of working over and adjacent to active railway lines, we enforced strict compliance with the E(7) specification which details best-practice methods of undertaking work near railway lines. In addition, enforcing round-the-clock trained supervision for OHTE work which was undertaken by TCP RME (Transnet’s in-house specialist construction division) was critical.

The site was one which was in the public domain, and therefore vigilant barricading and demarcating of the works, as well as open communication with stakeholders was enforced.

Phil: How important is the forming of partnerships within a project team when it comes to safety?

Graham: A partnership between TCP, Aurecon, the designer (Jeffares and Green) and the contractor (Steffanuti Stocks) was absolutely key to maintaining high safety standards. In this regard, it is crucial that the conditions of contract of any project stipulate partnerships.

Koos: The National Engineering Council Engineering and Construction Contract, which was created by the Institution of Civil Engineers to guide the drafting of documents for obtaining tenders, starts with Clause 10.1: “The Employer, the Contractor, the Project Manager and the Supervisor shall act as stated in this contract and in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation.”

Graham: TCP has on previous occasion worked with members of the same project team on other challenging projects, and so we were able to leverage our existing strong relationships. The ‘people’ factor was key to our success on this project.

A uniform commitment from all parties to take the appropriate disciplinary actions was also important. Disciplinary actions were required on several occasions, and these were taken by the Contractor when needed, resulting in a disciplined, safety-focused environment.

Mark: I could not agree more. Mutual understanding and trust is key and ensures that everybody is committed to the same goals.

Phil: Which key safety lessons can be learnt from the Bayhead Road Upgrade? And how can other companies apply these lessons to their projects?

  • Make safety a visible priority

Graham: It’s important to implement visible points of contact for safety. These points of contact should provide coaching on site, talk to employees about safety and ask employees questions around safety. On this project, full use was made of TCP’s ‘Safety Observations and Conversations system’ which encourages team focus on and communication around safety. Importantly, this enables a learning environment.

  • Understand the implications of appointing a safety supervisor

Jabu: It’s critical to choose a capable safety supervisor. Aurecon went one step further and enforced safety audits of their own safety management system by Aspirata. This was very valuable as the outside perspective was helpful in ensuring continuous improvement of safety practices on site.

  • Commit to diligence, dedication, discipline and thorough planning

Mark: This project proves that large projects can be successful and safe! Productivity and schedule don’t have to compromise safety. Zero harm was achieved on this project through uncompromised diligence, dedication, discipline and through carefully planning safety interventions for each and every identified risk.

Graham: I agree with Mark. We’ve set a global precedent in terms of safety on large projects, and the key takeaway should be that the size of the project should never compromise safety.

Transnet has set the bar with regard to health and safety standards on large projects. The key project success factors on this project point to critical interventions needed to achieve world-class safety standards that all companies should aspire to.

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