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Better safe than sorry: prioritising Environmental Health & Safety

Trey Dean

Trey Dean

Global Director, Environmental Health & Safety at Vantage Data Centers
Image credit: Shutterstock.com

Space, power, security, connectivity and resilience are all common evaluation criteria when planning and building a new data centre or expanding an existing one. But what about Environmental Health & Safety (EHS)? This is equally key to a facility’s efficient and safe delivery as well as ongoing operation.

Major hyperscaler data centre organisations already recognise these benefits and include stringent EHS as part of their SLAs. They and their data centre partners are focused on the entire lifecycle of safety. They recognise the benefits of ensuring zero incidents with a fully motivated workforce when striving to meet demanding delivery deadlines. Not only does rigorous EHS mitigate against injury to staff and sub-contractors working on site, but it also facilitates project completion being achieved on time, within budget, aids compliance with international standards and local regulations, and is inextricably linked to operational excellence.

All data centre construction projects bring considerable risk to human life with sometimes hundreds of contractors on site during the construction and build out stages. Short delivery timescales and cultural differences add to that risk. For example, global hyperscale data centre providers such as Vantage often work on several construction projects simultaneously across several continents, in both remote and busy metro areas.

Typical hazards include working with and among heavy machinery, construction vehicles, electricity, working at height and in bad weather. An incident not only risks human life but also the resultant shut down is likely to lead to delays at the very least. Reputational damage, threat of prosecution, fines and increased insurance premiums are also on the table.     

Defining safety

With demand for data centres booming – for facilities of all shapes and sizes – the focus on EHS by the hyperscalers and their data centre partners needs to emulated throughout the industry, by operators and contractors/sub-contractors, staff and client personnel. Increasingly, along with the design and facilities critical infrastructure on offer, prospective customers are looking to identify and assess a data centre provider’s safety culture.

With so much at stake, enterprise executives are becoming increasingly thorough in checking whether the appropriate safety policies are in place for meeting regulatory requirements and industry best practices. Additionally, they will look at how safety is assured and reported on, and the level of training data centre employees receive – as well as how the operator identifies high-risk activities and assesses and controls them. They will also look at the incident history.

The bottom line is the quality of the EHS regime implemented by a data centre operator can be a useful barometer for customers measuring whether a facility and its operational management is fit for purpose. Providing strong evidence of the appropriate EHS policies, procedures, reports and auditing in place, along with training and record keeping, allows customers to gain a good sense of the safety culture and the level of commitment to safety from the top down.

EHS best practices

At Vantage, our working assumption is that every incident is indeed preventable. By maintaining a fierce focus on the highest risk activities, we do everything possible to ensure they are planned for and controlled to avoid threats to life and property. Our training in proper procedures is thorough and ongoing, with an emphasis on hazard identification, assessment and communication.

The safety management process must start at contractor vetting, making sure that they and trade partners are qualified to work on a project site. Employees should not only be responsible for their own activities. They should also be focused on identifying potential or actual risks throughout the workplace. A duty of care and on-the-job vigilance can provide data that maintains the overall safety of the place they work in.

The backbone of a safety programme consists of policies, assurance, inspection process, promotion, training and overall risk management. We also believe if you can’t measure it, then you’re operating blind. This has led us to implement robust auditing and reporting processes that provide real-time information on safety activities on our construction sites as well as in our facilities. Around 1,000 data points are recorded within 30 different areas of data centre activities. That information is then widely shared across the organisation. We include weekly updates with our entire executive team and share this information with our employees and our customers:

  • Ensure zero incidents is a company-wide goal
  • Is the operator and contractor compliant/ or exceeding ISO 45001? Are they following county-specific policies and regulations?
  • Is there C-level involvement in all aspects of Environmental Health and Safety?
  • Do all employees have ‘Stop Work Authority’ at all locations?
  • Check for evidence of active risk profiling, ongoing safety audits
  • Is there continuous employee training?
  • What incentives are in place to motivate employees and sub-contractors?
  • See appropriate sanitary facilities, break areas, shade areas, bottles of water are provided.

In summary, hyperscalers and their construction partners are raising the bar for EHS and with it establishing best practices and a safety culture that can and should be adopted across the wider industry. Safety is not a set of rules, but rather the job of every employee, every contractor, every partner, every client — in short, a priority for all when on site, from the time it is being built through continuous operation.

Ultimately, the key performance indicator or the best measure of success is that every single person who enters a construction site or works at an existing facility returns home safe at the end of the day. Crucially, C-level management needs to engage with the safety strategy culture, taking an active role in ensuring its effective implementation.   

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