Australia’s a beautiful country – but it also contains some of the most dangerous and inhospitable places on Earth. For many Australians – and many of our people – that’s their workplace. So how do we keep them safe?
We recently completed a project for oil and gas producer Santos, in which 20 oil pumps on a range of their remote sites were converted to solar and battery power. It’s Australia’s first renewables-powered oil extraction project – and it presented unique considerations for the AGL project team, particularly around safety in the harsh conditions of Australia’s red center.
The sites are located in the Cooper Basin, an oil and gas field spanning the border between South Australia and Queensland – an area AGL’s HSE Business Partner Matt Baddams describes as ‘one of the toughest places in Australia’.
The Santos sites are quite remote
‘It’s desert conditions out there, with daytime temperatures regularly exceeding 50 degrees in summer,’ Matt said.
‘The area is also prone to dust storms, floods and a number of other extreme weather events.
‘Our most serious hazards on the project came from the working environment: heat stress, fatigue, wildlife, and long-distance driving on very poor-quality unsealed roads.
‘And of course, when you’re 800 kilometres from the nearest capital city, incident and emergency response is a major challenge.’ This all needs to be factored into the preparation and safety support on site.’
A Santos extraction site – now solar powered
Brendan Weinert, Head of Delivery Operations, praised the project team for their commitment to safety.
‘We faced conditions on this project that we’ve never dealt with before, but we set the tone from the outset that safety was our top priority at all times,’’ he said.
‘The AGL project delivery team for this project was led by Vaughan Buckingham, Jonathon Chow, and Matt Baddams who worked closely with our contractors in the field, ensuring risk assessments were completed and continuously reviewed throughout the project. Our project managers, engineers, and leaders spent critical time in the field to safely deliver the projects and overseeing the health and wellbeing of every individual.'
‘Working directly with the contractors in the field, in those extreme conditions, gave us the assurance that risk controls were being implemented effectively. The focus on safety was paramount – and ‘the project was delivered with zero safety or environmental incidents.’
Senior Project Manager Vaughan Buckingham and HSE Business Partner Matt Baddams enjoy pre-COVID-19 proximity
Closer to home
Not every workplace or customer site is as remote or as tough as the red centre – but safety is our biggest priority in every single workplace.
And there are a lot of workplaces – AGL contractors spend over 10,000 hours in an average month working on our customer sites.
They work on a wide variety of customer sites daily, from family homes and small businesses to large industrial facilities. Much of this work is installation and maintenance of solar, batteries, digital meters and other products which enable our customers to better manage their energy use.
As well as site-specific safety measures, there are broader safety considerations to take into account – especially right now. How do we continue this work safely under the restrictions and challenges thrown up by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?
‘Like so many other businesses, we’ve had to adapt to new ways of working,’ Matt said.
‘We have a social responsibility to help slow the spread of the pandemic, but we also have customers and contractors relying on us to keep our business running.
‘There was a comprehensive risk assessment done in relation to our customer-facing work. Some of the non-essential work was paused, but it was clear from that exercise that many of the activities could be safely continued with some strict controls in place.’
‘Our customer-facing teams have done an amazing job of identifying and implementing solutions. The speed with which we were able to adapt our processes to working during the pandemic is a huge credit to everyone involved.’
Social distancing is a little easier if you’re working on a roof
We’ve implemented safety measures for working with both our business customers and our residential customers to ensure our people (and our customers) are working under the safest conditions possible.
One of the first measures implemented was a screening process for every customer site attendance – that’s according to AGL Head of Residential Field Services Brad Baker.
‘We contact every customer the day before attending their property,’ Brad said, ‘And go through some basic, consistent questions to ensure our contractors won’t be put at risk.
‘And we do a similar exercise with the contractors themselves, providing our customers assurance that anyone coming to their home is healthy.
‘We also implemented digital signatures for customer sign-offs, meaning – for example – a home battery installation can be completed start to finish without any direct contact between our installers and the customer.’
The strategies employed for our business customers were similar, explained Brendan Weinert.
‘A lot of our work is being done in a way which already lends itself to social distancing,’ Brendan said.
‘Most of the activity on solar and battery installations is done on the roof or external to the property, meaning we can avoid close contact with the customer or their employees.
‘We’ve also stepped up our hygiene measures on larger projects, bringing our own amenities to site and implementing additional cleaning requirements.
‘These steps make everyone safer.’