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Safety awareness at Zuidasdok

You may not realise it, but 27 March 2024 is actually Construction Safety Day. On this day, hundreds of companies in the construction, engineering and maintenance sectors place an additional focus on health and safety at work. And there is a real need for it.

Safety risks on the construction site

In the first months of 2024, several construction workers have already lost their lives due to accidents on the construction site. They include an incident at Rotterdam’s Waalhaven, when a man was killed when a piling rig collapsed. He was sitting in a cradle that fell 30 m to the ground. At the end of February, a tragic accident on a bridge under construction in Lochem claimed two lives, when a large section of bridge was dropped from a crane. Lifting and foundation works are significant risks on the construction site. The same applies to driving heavy machinery on what are often very cramped construction sites – a tiny slip-up can cause an accident with fatal consequences.

Safety awareness

We are building Zuidasdok in one of the busiest parts of the Netherlands. It is not always possible to completely separate the construction work from the wider surroundings. The A10, railway and metro tracks often remain (partially) in use while we carry out our lifting and foundation work. Repeatedly closing everything for long periods is simply not an option. In any case, this can also often cause other safety risks. So, what do we do about it? In order to be aware of the risks that the work involves, we have identified the top 3 safety risks for Zuidasdok. These top 3 risks always have serious consequences: they almost always involve very serious or even fatal injuries.

Top 3 safety risks for Zuidasdok
1. Falling from a height or into a deep hole
2. Falling materials and equipment
3. Danger of collision with heavy equipment

Before and during the work

Safety on the construction site starts even before a construction site is in place: at the start of the project, we attempt to identify in the initial design process where there may be hidden risks and how we can prevent them. We then repeat the process in a subsequent stage with our contractor and other parties, because the situation is continually changing, which means we must always remain vigilant. During the implementation phase, we deliberately encourage the reporting of unsafe situations on the construction site. We believe it is important for everyone to remain alert and to feel safe enough to report these kinds of situations. Of course, we also take preventive measures to eradicate or reduce safety risks.

Safety zone

We aim to prevent any collisions with machinery by ‘isolating’ large machinery as much is possible. This could involve creating special construction roads or limiting the movements of heavy machinery. When carrying out lifting work, especially in a densely built-up area such as Zuidas, we also have to take account of the wider environment around the construction site. This can sometimes be quite a puzzle, as Martin Brouwer, Zuidasdok’s integrated safety manager, knows only too well. ‘Imagine that you have a crane that needs to lift a sheet pile 30 m long. You can then calculate what’s known as the safety zone’, says Brouwer. ‘If it’s impossible to immediately close the public area within that zone, the question is: could we perhaps use shorter sheet piles or a different material? Can we make technical changes to improve safety? Temporarily fencing off a metro platform? Or working at a different time? You have to tailor your approach to the situation. Zuidasdok makes use of external hoisting and lifting experts when preparing, executing and supervising works.’

Safety at work: brief inconvenience to passengers, September 2023

Fall-safety zone

Examples of additional, tailored measures include fall protection, a protective structure, an auxiliary structure or a temporary support structure. ‘We make an internal assessment of the proposed measures before putting them to the Environment Service (Omgevingsdienst). Only when they give their approval, is it possible for us to start work.’ When approving and supervising lifting works, the Environment Service also pays close attention to another relatively new guideline, introduced in 2020. This focuses specifically on foundation works in the public environment. Brouwer: ‘This guideline has not yet been made law, but is the state-of-the-art in construction. For example, it’s useful in calculating very specifically how far a piece of foundation or machinery might fall, and therefore in determining the size of the safety zone and measures to be taken.’

Working safely: the A10 Zuid closed, September 2023

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