Salt Waste Processing Facility
Aiken, S.C.         
Best Project

Owner U. S. Dept. of Energy
Lead Design Firm Parsons
Contractor Parsons

With the April 2016 completion of the $2.3-billion Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF), more than a half-century’s worth of radioactive liquid produced as part of the manufacture of nuclear materials at the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Savannah River site can now be processed for safe, environmentally sound disposal. The SWPF will provide a more efficient means of separating and concentrating highly radioactive waste—mostly cesium, strontium, actinides and waste slurry—from less-radioactive salt solution, ultimately removing approximately 38 million gallons of waste temporarily stored in more than 50 underground storage tanks.

The massive project unfolded over more than eight years, requiring a varying mix of craft skills as site, foundation and structural work gave way to the installation of complex equipment and associated systems infrastructure, operational setup and final completion. Though the SWPF was an attractive project to workers, other major construction projects in the region increased demand for specialized craft labor.

Nevertheless, the project experienced a high rate of turnover, which meant that a higher level of craftworker participation and ownership would be required to ensure crews consistently observed SWPF’s demanding safety practices until the project’s last commissioning. What’s more, Parsons took the unusual step of seeking recognition for an in-progress, one-time construction program from OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, which likewise stresses strong employee engagement.

To help achieve these ambitious goals, Parsons complemented new hires’ first general orientation training with meetings with the Employee Safety Committee, where peers shared expectations for site safety performance. People-based safety observations, where craftworkers agreed to be observed by fellow workers, were also implemented to provide ESC with valuable feedback on both positive and negative trends. Exceptional individual performance was recognized at weekly safety meetings, with small prize drawings providing an additional participation incentive.

The SWPF’s crafts readily embraced the enhanced safety program. The number of observations increased from a few hundred for all of 2013 to more than a thousand a month in the last quarter of 2015, a year that saw more than 90% of the project’s 500 craft employees participate in the observations.

The completed SWPF achieved a total recordable case (TRC) rate of 0.96—less than a third of the heavy construction industry average of 3.2.