Taking Away Construction Site Excuses

May 1, 2004

A great deal of discussion at IECA’s international conference in Philadelphia centered around construction site practices–how best to ensure that contractors install and maintain appropriate erosion and sediment control measures. Some dealt with practical issues, such as the most effective placement of check dams and silt fence, and others focused on the larger regulatory landscape of municipal ordinances and the penalties imposed for noncompliance. Almost all agreed that ESC should be a higher priority than it is now.

Realistically, though, as a contractor on a jobsite, you have dozens of priorities to juggle, of which ESC is only a part. Besides meeting the deadlines of the project itself, you have to worry about getting the right equipment, personnel, materials, power supplies, and other necessary components to the right places at the right time; guarding the equipment against theft and vandalism when you leave the site for the day; and safety inspections and OSHA standards. You might be dealing with geotechnical engineers’ follow-up inspections of the site as excavation progresses. Not only–not even primarily–because of the effect unseasonable rain might have on sediment control measures, you’re always keeping an eye on the weather. All of this is not to say that ESC concerns should rank any lower in the list of construction-site priorities or to excuse lapses in following the site management plan or in installing and maintaining sediment control BMPs. But what’s the best way to make sure that ESC stays visible enough in the overall scheme of things to make the whole process work? At least one state has a strategy-and a great track record-for keeping ESC in the forefront on construction sites.

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The State of Delaware, which for more than a decade has required approved stormwater plans on even small land-disturbing activities, requires on each construction site a “responsible person” who has completed a half-day ESC training course–commonly called the “contractor’s course” or “blue card course”–which is offered by the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Those who complete the course are issued a blue card, and inspectors typically ask to see it along with the site management plan during an inspection. More than 4,000 people have received the training since 1991. Having someone on-site who has been through the training, inspectors say, takes away many of the excuses they often hear — those of the “I didn’t realize we were supposed to do that” variety. More information is available in the Division of Soil & Water Conservation section at www.dnrec.state.de.us.

Delaware’s is a well-established, statewide program–just one part of a broader training program–and although not every municipality is in a position to offer similar courses, some might be able to make use of existing options toward the same ends. Local conservation districts in many states offer training for contractors on installation and maintenance of BMPs, for example, and some manufacturers also provide training and demonstrations for the types of products they sell; a useful step would be helping contractors find and take advantage of these. Every source of information–either as an introduction for new employees to the ESC measures available and how to use them or as a refresher for seasoned employees–has the potential to bump erosion and sediment control a rung or two higher on the ladder of priorities at a construction site, to make inspections go a little more smoothly, and to make the “penalties for noncompliance” a distant option.
About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.