How Can a Utility Ensure Contractor Safety and Quality-Control Excellence?

By Dan Weaklend, NPL Construction Company, Phoenix, AZ | December 2009 Vol. 236 No. 12

The required operator qualification (OQ) - including training and record keeping - may be conducted by the contractor, many times at the contractor’s expense. In other cases, the utility charges the contractor to provide the OQ training. Utilities may schedule the contractor’s OQ training at the best time for the utility only, taking away a key efficiency of the contractor - the ability to schedule its work force. When there are hidden costs to the contractor like this, it may even hurt safety and quality if production becomes the primary driver. This short-term sacrifice of safety and quality will end up costing the utility customer more money in the long term.

Now, let us consider contractor selection governed by the “best total-value model.” There are utility companies which are exceptions to the general rule in that they specifically seek and select contractors that have a culture of safety, quality, production, and customer satisfaction. These are the contractors that do not require others to spend inordinate amounts of time overseeing their business. They know their business. These are the contractors who provide the best total value.

Utilities can go a long way toward identifying the “best total-value” contractors by designing pre-qualification standards that ensure that bidders are already conforming to a culture of safety, quality, production and customer satisfaction and can demonstrate this to the customer. This demonstration will include documentation of sufficient insurance coverage, quality equipment, claims management systems and many others. Contractors awarded the work must be well-versed on regulations including 49 CFR 191, 192, 193, 199 and part 40; and OSHA 1926.

They must understand how these regulations drive the construction and O&M plans on which the utilities’ systems are built and maintained. These contractors must be familiar with OSHA standards - not just shoring requirements, but the handling of confined space, asbestos-wrapped pipe and natural asbestos occurring in the ground, PCBs, mercury and other environmentally sensitive material.

The contractor needs an effective fleet safety program dealing with commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) and all requirements of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation Parts 382 through 399. The contractor must have a culture of safety, quality, productivity and customer satisfaction.

Why Not The Best?
Some utilities have programs in place that ensure the selection of only the best total-value contractors. These programs have three additional processes in common: a high-level presentation at the utility by the candidate contractor, utility team visit to the candidate’s facilities and a rigorous scoring of candidate contractors by the utility on all factors important to the utility.

The utility requires the contractor to give a presentation to a group of staff, normally high-level executives from the utility’s operations, construction, contract administration, safety, regulatory affairs, environmental, risk management, accounting and, in many cases, information services, areas. This presentation enables the utility to objectively evaluate the contractor’s management team that will oversee the project via questions and answers on submitted material. This also allows the contractor to bring up any special processes or programs - like policies that address cross bores (one of the most pressing hazards facing our industry) - to the attention of the utility.