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Safe and Sound at SEAWOLF

Two people observing a marine construction site in Silverdale, Washington.
The project at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Silverdale, WA, runs five days a week with occasional weekend work, and an SSHO is required at all times.

A man wearing a hard hat on a marine construction site.
Matua in front of the Manson jobsite trailer at the P-834 SEAWOLF project.

The main goal of the P-834 SEAWOLF-Class Pier Extension project is to make it possible for all three U.S. Fleet SEAWOLF-class submarines to berth together when the project is completed in 2022.

The main goal of Manson Site Safety and Health Officer (SSHO) Gabriel Sablan (also known as Matua) is to ensure that the work is performed safely on this 520-ft. by 68-ft. reinforced concrete pier extension project.

The project at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Silverdale, WA, runs five days a week with occasional weekend work, and an SSHO is required at all times.

Each day by 6 a.m., Matua has already passed through three security gates to arrive onsite. It is an early call, but he is often greeted by his favorite part of the day – “watching the sunrise reflecting off of the Olympic Mountains with our rigs in the water and the moon still in the sky.”

However, Matua doesn’t have long to gaze at the majestic views on this busy and fast-paced project. Rapid change is consistent on this site, and Matua needs to walk the job to see what is different from last night. The project site consists of a large parking lot just up the hill from the service pier, Manson derrick barges SCANDIA and DERRICK 6, crew shacks, job site offices as well as the pier itself. It is a lot of ground to cover. He often logs between 8,000 and 10,000 steps a day traveling between these sites. The frantic and demanding activity of concrete placement every Friday also keeps Matua on his toes.

Two people discussing safety plans on a jobsite.
Matua (left) reviews potential hazards and concerns with another team member.

During his multiple rounds throughout the day, Matua checks in with roughly 50 people onsite, consisting of Manson crew, Navy personnel, and subcontractors. In order for an SSHO to be a valuable resource in hazard prevention, Matua says, they must be aware of all current and upcoming activities on the job, so communicating with site personnel about their plans for the day is important. He also reviews the Job Safety Analyses (JSA) of Manson crews and ensures that everyone on the project has the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need for their work.

With over 10 years in the safety and health industry, Matua’s professional journey began when he attended the GCA Trades Academy in Guam. Interested in construction, Matua’s goal was to land a role in a management position. When he learned the school was offering a Safety Technology course, Matua signed up. “I attended the trade school for about two years and received all the certifications needed,” Matua explains. “After that, I entered the industry working for a local contractor and then worked for a concrete manufacturer.” Two years into the field, Matua realized that he wanted to get back into construction and made the shift to work on military contracts at Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base.

In 2017, Matua relocated to New England for work – but immediately knew that wasn’t his new forever home. “It was a culture shock, from the weather to the east coast lifestyle,” Matua says. “It just wasn’t for me at the time, and my wife and I were looking for a change.” When he learned about a position in Seattle which offered the chance to work in a nicer climate closer to family and friends, Matua leaped at the opportunity and headed for Seattle in 2019.

Matua worked with a consulting firm on upgrades to Starbuck’s Seattle manufacturing plant. Depending on the industry or assignment, the responsibilities of an SSHO always change, and the job would introduce him to new concepts such as Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), adding to his breadth of knowledge as an SSHO.

Upon completion of the project, it was time for Matua to search for his next opportunity. He applied for an open position with Manson and, given his unique background and experience in the safety and health industry, he was hired to work on the SEAWOLF project in May 2020.

According to his coworkers, Matua’s adaptability to working in various settings and conditions adds tremendous value to personnel on the SEAWOLF project.

“Tua has really gained the respect of the crews and helps them identify opportunities for improvement along with effective and efficient solutions during his daily site walks,” says Manson Project Administrator Lindsey Hagle. During the summer of 2020, when subcontractor Tunista was onsite constructing the parking lot, Matua visited both the upland and waterfront portions of the site multiple times a day. “With the sequenced work and limited access, he’s got his work cut out for him to ensure proper controls are in place,” she says.

Matua uses his experience and knowledge to monitor the numerous activities and their associated hazards. When welders are working, he ensures they’re each issued a Power Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) to protect against metal fume fever, a potential hazard from the work activity of welding sheer rings inside of piles. Metal fume fever can produce flu-like symptoms that often occur three to ten hours after an exposure and can take 24-48 hours to dissipate.

Matua identified the possibility of falling into the water during the building of the pier falsework and soffit as one of the biggest potential hazards to personnel. He works with the crews to make sure fall protection is used correctly, life jackets are worn, and contingency plans for rescue are in place.

Matua also notes how congested the service pier can become during an average work day. “One of the biggest challenges is that there is limited space on the pier for all of our work operations,” he explains. “We constantly have to coordinate with the Navy and their vehicle traffic and ours.”

Daily site concerns consist of potential hazards that need to be addressed, training of crew members new to the project, events that occurred during their respective shifts, and any other issues that need to be addressed.

The SEAWOLF project operates under regulations established by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which require Manson to have a full time SSHO onsite during work activities. However, the motivation of Matua goes beyond regulations and procedures. “Tua does a fantastic job setting and maintaining expectations for creating a safe work environment in such a complicated and congested area,” Lindsey says.

According to Matua, “Its important knowing that at the end of our shift everyone is going home in the same condition as they showed up in: Safe, sound, and all in one piece.”

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