Integrating Human Factor Engineering in Construction and Fabrication

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Human-factors engineering (HFE) is applied widely in the design phase of capital projects in order to build human-centered facilities. By considering the interactions between workers, tools, and facilities, a project team can identify any additional controls that may improve overall human performance in the construction phase. This paper describes the operator’s experience in the consideration of HFE during the construction and fabrication/installation phase of the project with the goal of proposing a structured approach.


Starting from a high-level screening of possible human interactions with the equipment, work environment, and monitoring and control systems, the project team can identify human-performance criticalities that can negatively affect integrity of operations, or those HFE opportunities that may relieve operational bottlenecks, thus allowing for the implementation of new concepts and operational practices. As more-detailed information on the design of the facility becomes available, more in-depth analyses may be carried out on the basis of the specific needs of the project. This approach, coupled with adequate competencies, is capable of channelling the efforts of the project team toward continuous improvement and of reducing capital expenditure (0.25–5%), operating expense (3–6%), design rework, and turnaround time. But a systematic approach to HFE during construction does not yet exist in the industry.

Constructability Hazard Identification (HAZID)

The operator has introduced, in its health, safety, and environment (HSE) risk-management process, a dedicated step aimed at providing an early focus on possible human-performance issues that can be faced during the operational phase. Considering the analogies with constructability reviews that can exist when evaluating these factors, the operators have labelled this process Constructability HAZID.

The optimal timing for Constructability HAZID is during engineering activities, when the first revision of preliminary procedures has been issued. Like constructability reviews, Constructability HAZID is held in a workshop format, led by an independent facilitator having knowledge of HFE or relevant past experience in the specific scope of work. The personnel constituting the first line of construction supervision are required to attend to bring their experience to the discussion and to effectively agree on proposed action items. These will influence decisions taken by all the functions during the engineering, procurement, construction, and installation project life cycle; any deviation would require the implementation of a formal change-management process.

Because Constructability HAZID is a workshop-based risk-management tool, the role of the facilitator is critical for the success of the study. The facilitator should ensure the correct definition of the nodes to be analyzed and selection of the terminology to be used, so that all operational steps and related criticalities are considered in the discussion. Focus shall be on those human-factor issues that may have an effect on human performance or HSE, such as accessibility, workstation layout, fabrication and installation aids, weather conditions, material handling, rescue protocol, and past incidents. The facilitator should also ensure that the boundaries of the analysis are clearly defined and explained to all participants to optimize the efforts of the team. The objective is to maintain a high level of detail on all steps of the construction, fabrication, and installation sequence, keeping the workshop within a predefined duration, typically of 1 day, on the basis of project novelty and complexity. In the same way, the facilitator should always challenge the team on complacent or traditionalist attitudes, encouraging all participants to propose improvements.

Examples of Constructability HAZID Implementation

One example of the successful application of this methodology is related to the fabrication of buoyancy tanks in Nigeria. Environmental conditions and heat inside the structures were identified to be significant performance-influencing factors, considering that the scope of work requires continuous access to confined spaces to perform the internal welds of the shells, with no alternatives to eliminate the hazard. Common practice in these cases is to perform the job by implementing the standard control measures for confined-space management and ensuring continuous monitoring of air inside the compartments, availability of ventilated welding masks, and adequate work rotation. Still, considering the preheating process and multiple weld locations, temperatures in the working area can be expected to exceed 50°C routinely, and the residual risk related to heat stress and dehydration is significant. Welder performance is also influenced strongly by turnover requirements and by environmental conditions. The solution proposed by the project team was the procurement of advanced confined-space equipment that could allow the implementation of a different operational concept, achieving an overall optimization of manpower requirements, minimizing the needs for rework, and reducing work schedules. By providing welders with ergonomic respiratory protection for the entire upper body, which allowed the customization of air temperature, it was possible to allow welders to work continuously for an extended period. Infrared cameras and gas-detection sensors were also installed inside the tanks, providing real-time feedback to a portable control panel positioned directly on site. In such a way, a single operator could monitor the conditions of several work locations.

Another case study proving Constructability HAZID to be an effective tool in ensuring proper task-planning and emergency preparedness was the identification of an additional means of access for the emergency-response team during the construction of a floating production unit in Indonesia. At its peak, the project saw 1,500 workers aboard the vessel, moored at the quayside. The workshop process highlighted the fact that, considering the width of the gangways, in the event of any major incident requiring the complete evacuation of the facility, the continuous flow of people could impair the access of firefighters or medical teams. The proposed solution consisted of the provision of a third gangway, having adequate dimensions to ensure accessibility with a stretcher or emergency-response equipment, fully dedicated to this purpose. During project execution, there was no need to use the additional gangway, and access for personnel was allowed only in a few particular cases. Nevertheless, while ensuring adequate emergency preparedness in a critical phase of the construction, the gangway remains an asset for the fabrication yard in view of future projects.

Integrating HFE Experience Into EPCI-Project Life Cycle

The Constructability HAZID phase should identify any additional study that should be performed at a later stage in the project, when adequate information becomes available to address effectively the issues identified in terms of HSE, and the goal-oriented requirements in terms of human performance. This approach can optimize the efforts of the project team effectively, making the most out of past experience and lessons learned.

As with the HFE process, a typical analysis to be performed as engineering progresses is a 3D-model walk-through, focused on accessibility and workspace issues to anticipate possible operational constraints at the interface between people, the working environment, tools, and materials.

In the operator’s experience, a successful example of the benefits of a 3D-model walk-through involved the installation of living quarters offshore west Africa. The facility, supplied by a third-party company, was split into four modules to be stacked on top of one another, making use of guides and pins. On the basis of a lesson learned from a past project, in which similar welding operations proved to be extremely difficult and particularly hazardous because of limited access to welding locations, the project team used the 3D model to identify critical areas and to propose corrective actions to minimize the risks and optimize welder performance. The analysis highlighted those locations that would constitute a confined space (and, thus, obstructed accessibility for rescue) in order to properly plan for the installation of ventilation systems. Therefore, additional openings in the module roofs were designed, linking the work stations to the external walkways. The new configuration of emergency escape routes was assessed against the need to use a stretcher, confirming the suitability of the solution.

These modifications allowed the achievement of significantly safer conditions for the welders during the offshore installation. Escape paths were privileged and working space was maximized. Installation proceeded smoothly; no incidents were reported, and out of the 42 days forecast for the installation, three were saved.

Challenges to HFE Implementation

Project management should be made aware of the benefits of human factors in construction, starting from project kickoff, in order to obtain necessary buy-in and to plan for potentially resource-consuming analyses. Once management commitment has been obtained, other challenges may jeopardize process effectiveness:

  • Resistance to change of experienced construction team members

  • Resistance to change of engineering team members

  • The belief that hazards are an accepted, and acceptable, part of job tradition

  • Ineffective follow-up of actions. It is fundamental to clearly explain at the beginning of the study, whether it is a Constructability HAZID or a 3D-model walk-through or any other type of study, that any change of an agreed action will require a formal change-management process implementation.

A key element in minimizing objections from project team members is to ensure the effective communication of the added value that the approach can bring to the project. For example, the study can be opened with a presentation that highlights the concept of HFE, showing successful examples of application in past projects, thereby fostering the active participation of team members in the discussion.

This article, written by JPT Technology Editor Chris Carpenter, contains highlights of paper SPE 190513, “Integrating Human Factors in the Constructability Process,” by Matteo Palazzolo and Angelo Spingardi, Saipem, prepared for the 2018 SPE International Conference and Exhibition on Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility, Abu Dhabi, 16–18 April. The paper has not been peer reviewed.



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