Extreme Safety Corps kept a watchful eye on ABC's new home for the Smith family

Construction participants

Construction participants

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 1, 2006 – Virginia Tech played a vital behind-the-scenes role making sure ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” construction in Blacksburg, Va., was as safe as it was fast.

The health and safety-monitoring component of the project required the mobilization of 50 Virginia Tech faculty and students who served on the “Extreme Safety Corps”. The intense planning and design of a system to support safety in this rapid construction project was led by Brian Kleiner, director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Innovation in Construction Safety and Health (CICSH).

The Center supplied at least one faculty supervisor and two upper level or graduate students from Virginia Tech to serve on site 24 hours a day from the beginning of demolition up until the “final reveal” of the spectacular new home to Carol Crawford Smith and her two sons. Participants from the Center worked round the clock to assist in maintaining a safe environment for all workers and volunteers. This service provided by the Center complimented the architectural and design work performed by members of the College of Architecture and the general contractor, Building Specialists, Inc., of Roanoke, Va.

Faculty and students in the new Safety Corps hailed from the departments of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE), building construction, civil and environmental engineering and wood science and forest products. To jump-start this effort, a training course for Safety Corps members was quickly designed by Roby Robinson from Virginia Tech’s Environmental Health and Safety Services.

Risks were assumed to be greater because of the compressed schedule of the project and the expected number of people working on site. “To many of the volunteers this project was a TV set, but to the Center it was a rapid build project with high intensity production, self-formed work crews, and significant opportunities for safety incidents that within a heartbeat could result in an accident and injury,” said Thomas Mills, associate professor in Building Construction. In order to manage the expected risks of this unique project, Kleiner and his team developed the Rapid Universal Safety and Health (RUSH) system.

Different construction trades typically accustomed to working sequentially had to work concurrently in this rapid build environment. "The compressed schedule and impending ice storm meant more trades were working over, under, and around each other than they were normally accustomed to. The Extreme Safety Corp observers sometimes had to interrupt a focused tradesperson and get them to look up to become aware of an overhead operation, like roof truss installation, that they needed to avoid," said Michael O’Brien, William E. Jamerson professor of Building Construction.

In order to facilitate everyone working together safely, the RUSH System had the following components: Project and Site-Specific Safety Plan (includes generic rapid build components); Site Responsibility Matrix and Organizational Design; Safe Building Process Pre-planning; Safety Signage and Job Aids; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); OSHA Training; On-the-job training; Site Hazard Controls; Culture Management; and Leadership and Safety monitoring.

"It was like watching a highly choreographed dance. Each crew was keeping its own beat, but they would move in and out of each others workspace seamlessly, like they had practiced this a hundred times, even though you knew none of the construction volunteers had ever undertaken this much work in this short period of time. Each contractor worked safely; as a result, the larger worksite was safe," said O’Brien.

“You’ll never be able to recreate in a classroom the magnitude of a 12-minute demolition or the frenetic energy of the contractors. The construction of this house has proven to me that with careful project management and proper safety planning and awareness, timeline and safety are not necessarily a trade-off,” said Industrial and System Engineering senior and Safety Corps member, Ellery Hanlin.

Not all of the tasks taken on by the Corps were traditional construction safety activities. “Keeping the multitude of volunteers safe was an enormous challenge,” said Kleiner. A construction site is normally a very dangerous place, and with the high number of trades people and volunteers working on such a tight schedule, this high-energy atmosphere required careful monitoring. Fast-track construction projects are complex technical challenges and will become increasingly important as communities respond to natural and unnatural disasters.

Deliveries were constant at the Smith family’s new house. As the week progressed, the ice storm caused the schedule to get off track, so it was imperative to maintain the just-in-time delivery system. Volunteers and workers shared the road night and day with trucks, bulldozers, cranes, and other heavy equipment. “Traffic control became a major activity for Safety Corps personnel,” said Kleiner.

"With Bobcats operating at full speed, moving soil on and off the site, many times the Safety Corps had to form dynamic safe zones--three or four safety observers acting as orange cones to keep volunteers, trades people, and the television production crew from stepping into the path of a fast-moving machine," said O’Brien.

Center personnel also helped with the building process itself--framing, dry walling, plastering, and other tasks as needed by work crews. Dan Hindman, assistant professor in Wood Science and Forest Products, served as a faculty observer at the site. “This was a good experience for our students that complimented design and analysis skills learned in the classroom.”

The community service aspect of the project was paramount to all of the participating faculty and students. "What really felt good was to do all of this for someone like Carol Crawford Smith, who has shared time and energy with the community so selflessly by providing numerous opportunities to youth who might not otherwise have the chance to experience art and culture through dance and music,” said Tonya Smith-Jackson, associate professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering. “Despite her struggles, Carol has not stopped doing volunteer work and insists on giving even beyond her dance activities. She has always been one of our most active civil rights advocates. We can never fully repay her for her volunteerism and unselfish devotion to the community, but this has turned out to be a great way for us to show our appreciation.”

“The opportunity to work with the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” team was a chance of a lifetime. Even with all the weather problems during this busy week, I never once heard anyone complain, which really showed everyone’s enthusiasm. It was great to see that my technical skills could be applied to a project that would impact someone's life in such a touching way,” said Industrial Systems and Engineering senior and Safety Corps member, Chris Gabb.

About “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”

“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is produced by Endemol USA, a division of Endemol Holding. David Goldberg is the president of Endemol USA. The series is executive-produced by Tom Forman. The show airs (8:00-9:00p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network.