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Meeting the environmental challenges of the Air Warfare Destroyer project


Friday 22 February 2008

With wild animals, contaminants and a $110 million construction project to deal with, Steve Thomas certainly has a unique challenge ahead of him. Steve has taken charge of managing OHS&E for the new ASC Shipyard in the Techport district at Osborne, South Australia, the site where Australia’s new $8 billion Air Warfare Destroyers will be built.

Steve faces some real and different challenges during this project including some ‘unofficial’ tenants, managing contractors on site and with dealing with noise, dust and traffic issues during the shipyard construction phase.

One aspect where the shipyard project differs dramatically from many others is the existence of those ‘unofficial’ but protected tenants.

The Port River on which the shipyard will be located is a home to around 30 dolphins. “Naturally community action groups are very protective of the Port River dolphins” says Steve, “and we see them as an unofficial mascot of sorts.

“And with its open areas of sandy and gavelled ground interspersed with old machinery and pipes, the site is quite attractive to another protected species, albeit one less likely to attract community action groups. Brown snakes are a fairly common sight at the ship yard. The presence of this wildlife puts an onus on us to develop the area whilst protecting the sensitive environment.

“Being protected, we can’t kill the snakes, and so where possible we avoid them! When all else fails though, we call the snake catchers in. We don’t expect the snakes to be a continuing issue, as they should move on as development progresses, and the site is fully cleared. The dolphins, however, will remain an ongoing concern, as the Port River is a declared Sanctuary for them. We will put in place a comprehensive waste management plan to ensure their habitat is protected from any harmful wastes well into the future.”

To achieve this, Steve will ensure the site is clean and generally free from contamination prior to construction of the shipyard. There will be a strict management of waste (liquid and solid) during the shipyard construction and a comprehensive waste management program will be in place when the shipyard becomes operational, including a hazardous waste storage facility. An environmental management plan is to be developed to protect soil, water, and air, and Steve aims to get this environmental management system assessed and certified to ISO 14001.

To ensure that the Managing Construction Contractor works in a safe and healthy manner while protecting the surrounding environment, the contract with the Construction Company will contain high standard OHS&E clauses and requirements. Steve will also periodically evaluate contractor OHS&E performance to ensure best practice

On the broader environmental scale, Steve is aiming to achieve an industry best practice four-star green rating for the Shipyard Administration Building. This rating is based on the assessment of factors such as the buildings environmental management, indoor environment quality, energy and water efficiency, the materials used in construction, and land use and ecology. There will also be rain water harvesting in the main workshop building, adding to the environmental friendliness of the site as a whole.

The first major step in the project was the demolition of buildings that were no longer needed. Once the site was completely cleared, including the safe removal of most of the contaminants such as Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons and residual asbestos it was deemed ready for the Managing Contractor to take over the site and begin construction.

“It’s a very rare opportunity to start with a completely blank canvas like this” says Steve, “and it was certainly a major factor in my accepting the position of Occupational Health, Safety and Environment Manager for ASC Shipbuilding in August 2007.”

This shipyard and the South Australian Government’s Common User Facility will become a focal point in the Techport district at Osborne. The industrial precinct surrounding the Shipyards will include all manner of SMEs as well as the new Systems Centre building for the Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance.

The Alliance, made up of the Defence Materiel Organisation, Alliance Shipbuilder ASC and Alliance Combat Systems, Systems Engineer Raytheon Australia, is responsible for building at least three Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers on the site, the first of which will roll out of the shipyard in late 2014.
“It’s a really exciting project” says Steve, “and I look forward to seeing both the yard and the ships built in the safest and healthiest way possible.”

With qualifications in science, education, social science, Risk Management, and Occupational Health, Safety & Environment, Steve has 20 years experience in Occupational Health, Safety and Environment, having previously worked with organisations such as the SA Health Commission, Ansett Australia, and the Adelaide City Council.

To learn more about ASC, visit the ASC website

To learn more about the Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance, visit the website.