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Safety culture remains at forefront as Northwater Treatment Plant moves forward

Another award recognizes the work that goes into Denver Water’s commitment to safety.

A focus on safety is of utmost importance in the day-to-day operations of a large construction project.

And it starts with developing and ingraining an overall culture of safety among the people who will be working on the project — even before it breaks ground.

That’s exactly what Denver Water did with its Northwater Treatment Plant project.

Construction on Denver Water’s 183-acre site near Ralston Reservoir started in September 2018. The new plant will be operational in 2024. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“Before we ever broke ground on the project, we emphasized a safety culture on the site,” said Pete McCormick, project manager for Denver Water’s new treatment plant.

“We weren’t going to focus on specific numbers or metrics related to safety. We wanted everybody who worked on the project to have awareness and reinforce the role each of them plays in avoiding and minimizing risks.”

The American Public Works Association has honored the construction of Denver Water’s new treatment plant with its “2023 Exceptional Performance in Safety Award,” recognizing the project leaders’ commitment to significant accomplishments in the area of safety.

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The project has garnered awards and recognition, and earlier this year passed what’s considered an industry milestone that highlights the complex work that goes into creating a culture of safety: 2 million labor hours safely worked on the project.

The Northwater project team, following Denver Water’s practice for large capital projects, started ingraining the culture of safety while creating the project’s charter, the guiding document for creating the project management and construction management plans for the project.

They outlined the goal that from the moment the project broke ground until the time it is completed, safety would be, as stated in the charter: “paramount and will be the first priority of all parties to the project.”

With safety as a guiding value for the project, and through the hard work done by everyone on the project to create and support the culture of safety, the team is being recognized for the key safety initiatives that have driven success so far.

“While the project hasn’t yet wrapped up, these awards are important recognitions of the hard work that has already been done by the people on-site. They’re also important reminders to keep focused on safety – especially now as the project is nearing completion. Now is not the time to let up,” said Jason Taussig, Denver Water’s director of emergency management, health, safety and security.

Members of the Northwater Treatment Plant project team received the American Public Works Association’s “2023 Exceptional Performance in Safety Award” at the association’s PWX, short for Public Works Expo, conference in August in San Diego. From left are: Keith Pugh, APWA past president; Benson Robbins, Kiewit’s project engineer; Nathan Worker, Jacobs construction manager, and Scot Grayson, APWA CEO. Photo credit: American Public Works Association.

The safety initiatives included empowering every person on-site to speak up if they saw something concerning from a safety standpoint. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first day on the project of if you’ve been here the whole time. Every person can bring a safety concern forward.

Other parts of the safety initiatives recognized through industry awards include:

  • Safety by design: During the design phase of the project, the project team hosted Continuous Improvement events during which current operators and maintenance crews identified accessibility constraints and problem areas at other Denver Water facilities. The point was to avoid such issues at the new treatment plant. Activities included creating a full-scale mock-up of a chemical storage and pumping room, as well as three-dimensional model walk-throughs of each pipe gallery. Operators were able to visualize, access and sculpt the design, thus ensuring the finished product would be built with safety and accessibility standards influenced by the people who will eventually operate the plant.

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  • Craft voice in safety: This initiative led by Kiewit, the construction manager at risk for the project, is called CVIS for short. It provided a platform to ensure all craft workers have an equal voice in safety, are working in partnership with management to take a proactive approach on relationship building, and are empowering other workers to support safety through prevention, education and awareness efforts. The CVIS team continues to meet weekly with the dedicated site safety engineer and the on-site project safety manager to discuss safety topics.

  • COVID families: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kiewit quickly adopted this strategy, which placed workers in small “family” groups that did not interact with other workers in other family groups. This prevented one infection from turning into a mass outbreak that could have jeopardized the project schedule. Kiewit also created a matrix that explained to workers what to do if they felt sick, what to do if they tested positive and what they needed to do to come back to work.

See how construction of Denver Water's newest treatment plant stayed on schedule in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“From the moment we chartered this project until the time we finish, we are focused on safety in all aspects of the work,” said Nathan Worker, construction manager for Jacobs, the Owner’s Representative for the project.

“We kept the message simple. Nobody gets hurt and we all go home safely to our families at the end of the day.”