Call it superstition, call it prudence, but for whatever reason, for months those overseeing the construction of the 50-story Devon Energy Center declined to discuss what is being hailed as an extraordinarily safe job site.
But with an invitation-only grand opening set for today, Devon Energy Corp. is acknowledging a sense of relief — and celebration — that on a job site that booked more than 5.4 million man hours contractors reported no deaths or serious injuries.
Such incidents are fairly common on major construction projects. In 2010, while cranes filled the sky over Devon Energy Center, an El Reno construction worker was killed in a building site accident at Chesapeake Energy Corp. just a few miles away. A year earlier, a member of Southpointe Church was killed when a steeple being lifted by a nearby crane hit the retiree's car.
“We had three crane incidents, and to my knowledge those were the only incidents that we had,” said Klay Kimker, vice president of administration for Devon. “We knew there would be risks with crane work. We weren't happy they occurred, but there were no injuries with those incidents. We had some damaged concrete and window repairs to be made.”
Kimker and John Wood, project manager with the building's developer, Hines, credit the job site record to decisions made by the company and its contractor before construction.
“Our research indicated there would be great risk in any construction, especially with tall high-rise buildings,” Kimker said. “I had witnessed construction in Dubai, China, New York, and I had seen safety issues.”
Both Kimker and Wood say a key decision — an unusual one — was Devon's assignment of its environmental safety officer, Chris Biagi, as a full-time representative on the job site.
“He was there every single hour of every single day from start to finish of the project,” Kimker said. “He didn't interfere with the project, but he worked as a teammate.”
Biagi's assignment included daily safety briefings, walking the job site, and consulting with construction supervisors. Wood credited Biagi with bringing Devon's “zero accident culture” to the job site on a daily basis. One such step included giving out mementos and gifts to construction workers as they were spotted following proper safety procedures.
“He conceived, implanted and ran an employee recognition program,” Wood said. “He and his team would walk around and recognize people on the field when they were doing right. They were tangible evidence that Devon cared about worker safety, and that the company cared about them.”
Wood said workers also were led in a daily “stretch and fletch” series of exercises aimed at reducing soft tissue injuries.
Devon, meanwhile, employed Ohio-based MedCorp to run a full-time medical clinic staffed with doctors and nurses whenever construction workers were on the job site. Emergency medical technicians also were employed with backpacks to quickly respond as paramedics to any reported injury.
Almost 11,000 workers were tested for drug and alcohol and a zero-tolerance policy was maintained — an approach Wood credits for having no fall-related injuries — “unheard of,” Wood notes, for a large tower project.
Kimker said the experience has changed Devon's ongoing operations elsewhere. A MedCorps trailer is being added to a job site in western Oklahoma and will be considered at other significant Devon construction projects.
“We never wanted to get into a situation where a man or woman working on this job didn't end up going home at night,” Wood said. “And we achieved that goal; we had no fatalities. That's a phenomenal accomplishment on a job of this magnitude.”
Grand opening set
Civic leaders and media will gather Tuesday for an invitation-only grand opening of Devon Energy Center.
For Larry Nichols, executive chairman, the opening marks more than four decades since he and his father, John Nichols, started with a four-person office at Liberty Tower (now known as Chase Tower).
“It's a pretty historic moment,” Nichols told The Oklahoman in a recent interview. “It's a delight to get all of the employees back in one building, to have a better sense of community where we can communicate effectively. It's a big difference in efficiency.”
The opening comes on the heels of Devon announcing it is shutting down its operation in Houston and moving about 300 jobs to the new headquarters in Oklahoma City. Nichols said that thanks to not just the company's own investment, but also the investments made by city residents with the MAPS programs, the job of convincing employees to move to Oklahoma City is easier.
“Back in 1999, when we bought Pennzoil, it was exceedingly difficult to get anyone to move here,” Nichols said. “We've had a significant number say they wanted to be considered before sundown that day (when Devon announced its intention to move jobs from Houston earlier this month).”
• The incident rate was 27 percent below the national average.
• The recordable injury rate was 36 percent below the national average.
• The lost-time injury rate was 92 percent below the national average.
• Construction crews logged 5,420,499 man hours as of Sept. 30.
• Workers' compensation claims per man hour averaged 36 cents compared to an industry standard of $1.85.
• New hire orientations, including pre-employment substance screening, totaled 10,889.