This is the sixth in a series of Blog posts related to the design and construction of the Banner University Medical Center new hospital in Tucson, Arizona.
For several months now the two large cranes have been hoisting the steel members up to the new hospital framework at a rapid rate. Our BIG Room team are now fully distracted with watching not just the motion of the cranes, but also the dexterity and movements of the ironworkers as they dance around the steel framework on narrow flanges of steel or sometimes simply standing on safety wires. Although each worker is secured with harnesses and self-retracting lifelines, it’s a precarious job and fascinating to watch. The steel members on the ground are laid out in an organized manner for their ultimate position in the building. Workers on the ground secure cables to the steel members to be lifted into place by a crane and then ironworkers on the edge of the building frame use a tagline rope to control the beams and ease the steel member into place. When the steel is close to the point of connection, ironworkers position the beams in place with the long pointed bar of a spud wrenches to align bolt holes. Then bolts are inserted and the wrench end is used to tighten the bolts. For “moment resisting” connections, where the steel members must resist a combination of tension and compression force, a team of welders makes the connection secure with deep penetrating welds. The ironworkers are also involved with installing metal decking for the concrete floors that are poured on the decking.
Terry bolting a steel member while safely suspended from a column. While I was studying his work, he told me after he came down that he was worried that I was a safety inspector, although he was sure he was doing everything correctly. Afterward, I tried to be less obvious while watching the ironworkers since they certainly did not need any distractions.
At a recent lunch with some of the ironworkers from Schuff Steel I learned a few things about their lives and risks. Aaron, a local ironworker, quickly but politely corrected my use of the term “steelworker” by explaining that “steelworkers” work in a steel fabrication shop preparing the steel members for use in the field. The “ironworkers” are the ones working outside on a building to erect, position, bolt, and weld the steel members into place. This hospital building that Aaron and his crew were working on is a unique project for them and for Tucson. Normally these highly specialized workers are on a job for a month and then they are off to the next one – often in another city. Our project will keep them steadily employed in one place for many months. In Tucson, there are just not that many steel frame buildings being constructed so for an ironworker in Tucson, the opportunity to stay in one place was a uniquely stable situation.
The jobs these guys do looks risky - and it is. Many of them told tales of their last or most serious falls, including Aaron's recent free fall of 35 feet resulting in both ankles getting broken, an arm penetrated by a spud wrench and multiple other serious injuries. He had a deep appreciation for doing a hospital project having spent so much time recovering in one.
With the BIG Room overlooking the steel framework, the BIG Room participants have a greater appreciation for the work of ironworkers. We are also constantly reminded that our work together is important for the patients and hospital staff who will soon inhabit the new hospital. Some of our patients occasionally get to watch the workers erect the building from their patient rooms. To help connect our pediatric patients to the project and to give them some distractions during their stay, some of our project team have introduced Pokémon characters into the building framework. It’s important to have some fun during a long and serious project.
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