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The Green Files

By Michael Halliwell
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Michael Halliwell

The Green Files by Michael Halliwell

Michael Halliwell, M.Eng., CESA, EP, P.Eng., is an Associate and Environmental Engineer for Thurber Engineering Ltd. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. During his 13 years with the company, he has been involved with environmental site assessment, remediation, construction inspection and supervision, and project management. He also performs hazardous building material assessments for asbestos and lead paint.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

ECO Plans: More Green on the Job Site

Our job sites have sure changed over the last 15 years or so. Many things that were once commonplace can no longer be done, due to their impact on the environment.

To that end, many jurisdictions have added, or are adding, a requirement for Environmental Construction Operations (ECO) Plans to the projects we work on.

These plans look at more than just the work being performed. Their scope includes  reducing or preventing impact on the surrounding area.

Method, Not Madness

Unless you are involved with project management, you might not be aware that your project has a specific ECO Plan.

Containment
Photos: Michael Halliwell

Seeing more full containment on projects these days? Environmental Construction Operations (ECO) Plans, or whatever your region calls them, may be in place.

Yet, you may have noticed that full containments are more and more common, environmental aspects are finding their way into job site orientations, and auditors are wandering around the site, having a look at what’s going on.

It may be easy to dismiss these as “just the way things are done now,” but there is actually a systematic method to the environmental “madness” that has been creeping onto our job sites.

By Any Other Name...

ECO Plans are becoming more and more universal in Canada, where I’m located.  The terminology may vary in other countries, but the same idea is taking hold.

They may be “Environmentally Sustainable Construction plans” or the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO)’s “Environmental Stewardship Practices, Procedures, and Policies for Highway Construction and Maintenance.”

But no matter what you call it, it’s pretty much the same thing: making sure your job doesn’t impact the environment and cleaning up if it does.

Whether you're in the public or the private sector, no one wants the authorities on their case for contamination that was the result of a “simple” job.

How They Work

ECO Plans are typically developed before the project starts, and they can be fairly involved.

Bridge work

ECO Plans are living documents that may change as the project progresses.

The entire job is examined to identify:

  • Regulatory requirements (permits for all things that may be impacted by the work);
  • Items and procedures that have the potential to impact the physical environment (i.e. contamination, physical changes to the surroundings and impacts to wildlife); and
  • Impacts to users and neighbors (i.e. closures and detours, noise and dust).

Once identified, mitigation measures are developed both for normal operations and emergency situations, to try to prevent the potential impacts from becoming actual ones.

This could be as simple as letting the workers know about specific conditions at the site, situating laydown and refueling locations away from sensitive areas, scheduling the work for certain times of day or year, making sure that spill kits are available on site, and using containment structures.

About Those Auditors...

The ECO Plan also includes some form of monitoring, to confirm that the job is being carried out according to plan and the appropriate mitigation measures are being used.

This is where those auditors come from.

Depending on the project, the contractor and the owner may have their own auditors dropping by to perform inspections. These visits may be coordinated with a site superintendent or Health, Safety and Environment leader. Or they may be done independently of the contractor’s project team.

Dust escaping containment

Dust generated during prep work can blow right past the containment and into the green space below. Auditors will be watching closely; adjustments may be in order.

Regardless, they have the same purpose: to see what success is being achieved using the plan's mitigation measures and to identify areas for improvement.

Any deficiencies or potential improvements will typically be passed along to the site supervisory staff, with records kept to permit future follow-up. These visits can also be opportunities to have a “new set of eyes” look at what is going on during the project.

Making it Work

Finally, the ECO Plan is a living document that may need to be modified, depending on what is seen on the job site, changes during the project, or problems that arise.

Changes may include new techniques or technologies to better protect the workers or the environment or different ways to reduce the impact on those living and working near the project.

As public awareness of environmental impacts has grown, our job sites and work procedures have changed, too.

Hopefully, by using tools such as ECO Plans, we can continue this evolution and minimize the disruption and impact from our activities while we continue to get the job done.




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