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When undertaking any terrestrial project where workers will be traveling through terrain by foot it is important to fully understand the scope of the environment in which people will be working. It is only with this understanding that appropriate and adequate work plans, safety plans and preparations can be made. As more and more industrial projects are taking place in rugged mountainous areas it is more important than ever to do a thorough terrain assessment prior to beginning work and preferably during the planning stages.

When doing a terrain assessment for idutrial operations there are several factors to consider. Is all or part of the terrain difficult to access for workers, equipment, or rescue personnel? How much of the spread will be in difficult terrain? How about emergency egress? Can the pre plot be altered to eliminate some or all of the difficult terrain? Will the terrain become more or less hazardous with different or changing ground conditions?

The assessment itself should be clear and thorough and should outline all forseeable terrain related hazards. It should also outline risk mitigation strategies, and the corresponding reduction in risk. Most of all, the terrain assessment should be one of the most important tools a project manager uses when planning and allocating resources and funding. It will eliminate surprises down the road, minimize delays and increase safety.

Terrain assessments are often done in stages, beginning with the initial assessment. During this phase the terrain where the project will take place can be assessed to determine where problem areas will be, what hazards they present, and how they can be managed. This can be compared to the pre plot and allows for potential changes such as skidding points or eliminating them from the survey before they become a terrain issue. It will also help people to understand the requirements for working safely in the terrain.

Once it is determined that the project will work with the terrain they have then a secondary assessment will be conducted often alongside and in conjunction with survey. This will identify exact areas of concern down to the point so that future work plans will be much easier. For example, when putting together a daily work plan, the line boss can reference the terrain assessment and have crews work around or stop before difficult terrain obstacles, while other crews can work in the difficult terrain following risk management measures and protocols as outlined in the secondary assessment.

It will in essence make work planning simpler and prevent crews from accidentally running into terrain related obstacles that could likely lead to injury. The terrain assessment will also help define rescue requirements and protocols so the appropriate resources are in place before and just in case an incident or accident happens. Terrain can turn a simple injury into a life threatening ordeal. Consider this: A worker steps in a hole and breaks an ankle. Very unfortunate but generally not life threatening. In regular terrain accessible by vehicle it is likely the worker will be picked up in an ambulance or truck and transported to the hospital fairly quickly and easily.

Now same broken ankle but in steep cliffy terrain that does not have vehicle access. Your ERP will have to be different and without a plan and pre-organized resources this minor injury may turn into a major and potentially life threatening ordeal.

With a thorough and proper terrain assessment in place, a comprehensive ERP can be developed and the correct resources put in place. This can alleviate a lot of stress at all levels knowing that everyone in the field is covered from beginning to end and that there will not be any terrain related surprises.

 

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