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Safety challenges workforce at Iraqi Army base

By Nicole Dalrymple

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Army News Service Jan. 5, 2004) -- Wide variances in building processes, and almost non-existent safety rules and regulations have made ongoing reconstruction efforts in Iraq dynamic and complex.

The multinational construction team building the new $100 million K1 New Iraqi Army Military Base outside of Kirkuk has encountered and addressed many challenges since construction started in April.

With Phase One of the construction -- consisting of 120 buildings, roads and utilities --scheduled for completion this month, it's an environment that has required proactive efforts by the prime contractor, and patience, innovation and initiative from all involved, said officials.

ECCI, the project's prime contractor, has awarded much of the K1 construction work to four local companies. They have distributed work to more than 50 Iraqi subcontractors, employing as many as 2,600 workers a day, surpassing 2 million labor hours, said officials.

"This project is providing more jobs for people and we are all gaining experience," said Ali Ali Raoof, a local Iraqi civil engineer assisting with quality assurance at K1.

Construction builds local area economy

Originally, ECCI had planned on using pre-manufactured or modular buildings for K1, but the decision was made early on to use block and mortar construction. This decision kept the majority of labor in the local area and helped grow the economy, said Keith Pushaw, program manager with ECCI.

The base, designed to support a brigade of 3,000 soldiers, will include officer and enlisted barracks, dining facilities, headquarters buildings, maintenance facilities, a laundry, fire station, medical clinic, mosque, motor pool and firing ranges.

Because of all the required permits and building standards, a construction project of this size could have taken two or more years to build in the States, Pushaw said. Phase One construction is taking less than one year, but it has been a challenging nine months, Pushaw said.

"Many of our subcontractors have limited resources and are unable to provide the workforce with the tools we so commonly take for granted in America," Pushaw said. "They also have little exposure to the safety culture and workers often lack some of the basic essentials such as closed-top shoes."

Innovative ways improves quality control

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction reps, providing quality assurance oversight on the project, have seen workers using rebar as C clamps and hammer drills, and when mortar mixers were not available, mortar was mixed one bucket at a time using old Russian steel pots as mortar boxes.

The Iraqis have spent years holding their country together with whatever resources were available. If there's no hammer, they will make one. "The last regime tried to get everything for themselves," Raoof said.

"The Iraqis are very innovative with the tools they use," said John Bartel, former area engineer for the Corps' Mosul Area Office. "Their engineers have really impressed me. They are a very capable people."

"We have always done the best with what we had," Raoof added, "but now we are being shown new ways." Raoof and 40 other Iraqi engineers were brought in by the Ministry of Housing to help provide quality control at the project.

"The Iraqi engineers play a significant role in the construction process," said Wayne Elliott, the Corps' resident engineer there. "They have an assigned number of buildings where they are responsible for quality control and they assist us with the language barrier, communicating our intentions and requirements to the workers."

Safety and quality training stressed

During construction, Corps and ECCI personnel have been able to share knowledge with the local contractors as well as introduce new technologies and processes, officials said.

ECCI has also performed classroom training and site instructions for the local subcontractors and engineers.

"We have worked at establishing standards," Pushaw said. "Safety has been a big issue on the work site too. We stress safety and quality, but it has been very challenging."

An onsite medical clinic has been established to provide first aid treatment for workers and contract personnel, and hard hats, safety glasses and knee-high boots have been issued to workers. ECCI has also provided portable water coolers and tanks to help with the welfare and safety of the workforce.



"This has been a learning process," Raoof said. "Maybe we have some problems and mistakes, but these are standards we are not use to. We are working through the challenges."

"We are building up our skills for the next phase," he said referring to Phase Two, which will include 20 additional buildings. "We will have to be tougher on the workers and local contractors and make sure we are learning continuously."

Initial clearing and grubbing has begun for Phase Two with construction starting this month. It is scheduled for completion in May.

(Editor's note: Nicole Dalrymple is assigned to the Gulf Region Northern District

Army Corps of Engineers.)

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