Safely Managing Nuclear Remediation Projects

Even the best cost estimators and project managers can rarely capture all of the time and effort truly needed to support a fast-paced project.

For the better part of 30 years, I have been involved in a variety of nuclearrelated projects. This is what I know: For the most part, if you give the craft accurate drawings, the tools they need to perform their work, and clear direction, they will perform for you every time. If your staff has a well-defined scope, open communication, and management support, they will perform, as well. If you are doing all of these things and still find project success elusive, what’s missing? I have found that management credibility in regard to safety is the key.

Lessons Learned
It’s crunch time as the final days before proposal submittal draw near. A concentrated effort to focus attention on the RFP, amendments, drawings, and specifications demands intense focus. Having performed these tasks a hundred times, the staff homes in on the fine-tuning of each line item, reevaluating identified risk, stakeholder issues, lessons learned, subcontractor cost, the all-important margin, and contingency.

Unfortunately, accounting for the time, material, and equipment to support a safe radiological project usually means your bid will be too high. Faced with the dilemma, some firms struggle with inclusion of cost and resources necessary to fully capture the safety element. After award, in all too many cases, the task of managing a project safety is placed squarely on the shoulders of project managers. Profitability, after all, is the bottom line for advancement, company reputation, positioning for future work, and a powerful company reference for proposals.

Quite frankly, being safe is expensive and never fully accounted for in building a standard Work Breakdown Structure (a deliverable-oriented, hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives). What I mean with this statement is the cost of safety equipment; the time devoted to safety reviews, meetings, and briefings is expensive. The responsibility for the project manager is the timehonored art of balancing safety and production and relaying that approach to the field staff; this, and being believable. I’ve learned to favor safety every time. This approach has served me well for decades.

Once you add the nuclear component to the safety mix, even the best cost estimators and project managers can rarely capture all of the time and effort truly needed to support a fast-paced nuclear remediation project. However, given even the tightest budgets, a project manager can gain respect and credibility by conveying an absolute insistence for safety. Craft in particular can instinctively sense management’s approach and commitment to safety and can tell whether the radiological aspects are understood by their supervision.

Even with the best intentions, radiological training for staff and craft are at best a measure of who can comprehend the rules and guidelines well enough to pass an exam. So back to safety and setting proper examples: It doesn’t matter whether the project spans several months or several years and employs 10 or 1,000 employees—safety credibility is the key. Taking appropriate time up front to address the contractually stated scope in regard to working in a radiological environment will be the single most valuable time a project manager can invest.

Typical environmental restoration projects can range from $500,000 to $500 million and more. Many sites require everything from initial site characterization through final status surveys. Most of these projects include the initial determination and relocation of existing utilities, alarm systems, and vital security hardware. The primary hazards are confined spaces, fall protection, lead and asbestos abatement, and toxic material remediation. This work entails complex demolition scope and innovative design and engineering activities.

Unforeseen and changing site conditions are as much of the project dynamic as the stated scope. Addressing these issues, and more importantly, relaying their impact to the project workforce is an increasingly imperative project management attribute.

A complete understanding of radiological contamination levels and exposure controls is critical to preparing pre-construction- phase activities training. In regard to the Project Readiness Assessment, it’s essential to include the health physics discipline in the preparation of these processes.

Never underestimate the power of credibility in respect to achieving project objectives. From this PM’s perspective, being credible and setting examples from the outset is vital to leading a successful, safe project. After that, instituting a credible management approach to radiological safety is an absolute key.

This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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