Devon exec touts tower's safety record

Friday, December 7, 2012

by Brian Brus

The Journal Record

The positive safety record for the construction of the Devon Energy tower was made possible by intense oversight and a proactive interest in key workers, Executive Chairman J. Larry Nichols said Thursday.

In the case of the massive cranes that crawled up the building’s exterior, for example, Devon stepped in and told construction contractors which operators should do the job.

“We were able to get a list of all prior employment records for those (crane) operators and did our own research on what their safety records were,” he told attendees at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s Breaking Through luncheon.

“We were told we really could not have gotten away with that if we had been in a place like Chicago that’s heavily unionized or we had not been in the middle of a recession,” he said. “If you’re thinking of building a new building, a recession is a good time to do that.”

Over the three years it took to build the 50-story Devon Energy headquarters in downtown Oklahoma City, statistics suggested 5.4 people would die in construction-related accidents, Vice President Klay Kimker said. That’s an average of one person for every 1 million man-hours of work.

That didn’t happen; no deaths or serious injuries were reported. And the largest construction project in the U.S. for that period proved to be one of the safest, he said.

But that’s not to say the project was accident-free – materials have fallen off the building crushing a car, crashing through a window of a nearby building and spreading glass over a three-block area.

“Two were human error and one was an act of God,” Kimker said.

Work on one missing window section about 30 floors up has just been completed this week after seven months, suggesting how difficult it is to work in winds that can easily exceed 50 mph, he said.

The tower is being touted as a representational achievement of the new Oklahoma City, chamber President Carl Edwards said. Travelers are still surprised to see the building downtown and word-of-mouth carries throughout the country.

In addition to the crane operator decisions that were made to improve work standards, Devon also placed its own environmental safety officer on-site to work alongside the Holder and Flintco construction crews full-time, Kimker said. His responsibilities included daily safety briefings and reinforcing zero tolerance for accidents. Every worker was tethered to the building and every object carried was tethered to the workers. Failure to follow those rules was a firing offense.

The company also installed its own clinic on-site to immediately treat injuries and reduce health costs.