On Your Mark. Workers at remote site in Equatorial Guinea gather for athletic competition.

Worker shortages are everywhere in construction, and nowhere is this more acute than at remote project locations. To cope, employers are upping jobsite accoutrements these days to keep employees happy and in place, but not all site participants are treated equal.

Bechtel Group Inc. encountered that challenge big-time at a $1-billion liquefied natural gas facility project it is building in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. It is the capital of the coastal African nation but located on a sparsely populated, densely forested offshore island. Up to 2,800 workers will toil there through 2008, when the project is set to finish.

Amenities. Pool was provided in Africa.

To keep minds occupied and bodies strong until then, Bechtel offers language and computer training courses, swimming pools, tennis and cricket courts—even nature hikes on the weekends, a karaoke lounge and a private tae kwon do club, says Shannon O’Toole, a company health, safety, and environment manager. “Many of our craft workers are rehires, so it is important that they want to continue to work for all and tell other other craft workers that they had a positive experience,” adds a company spokesman.

U.S.-based projects are a little closer to urban centers, but onsite “quality of life” is still critical to jobsite success. At a powerplant scrubber installation project in Mount Storm, W.Va., near Maryland’s remote western region, CH2M Hill Cos. provided air-conditioned change trailers for all craft workers that included free weekly cleaning service. Such amenities were preset by a collective bargaining agreement for the project’s union workers. “We as management took an attitude that if you take care of your craft you get something in return,” says Pradeep Tipnis, the firm’s construction project manager. “You get better productivity, safer worksites and better attitude.”

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    “We had change trailers and covered areas with canopies and picnic tables for lunch,” says Tipnis, noting space and power constraints at the site. Workers provided their own housing but each received a $200-per-week subsidy for it.

    Project economics may restrict the level and breadth of jobsite amenities, particularly among subcontractors, but contractors or owners usually level the playing field to ensure harmony.

    At its Mississippi sites, CH2M Hill extended the use of trailer facilities to subcontractor workers. “We would stagger break times to make sure that everyone had access,” says Tipnis, although he concedes that company-paid cleaning services were not included. The firm’s larger subs could generally afford more perks, “but smaller ones didn’t have the money to take care of them,” he adds. “In that case we would step in and provide services to make sure that everyone on the site is treated equally.”

    Ken McGee, Bechtel administrative affairs manager, says the firm steps in on occasion to cover quality-of-life costs for its subs to prevent tension from rising out of discrepancies in conditions. “You want to make sure that there are no barriers built up between the subs,” he says.

    (Photos courtesy of Bechtel International)