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Safety Underground: The Saint Barbara Way

Each Dec. 4, tunnelers, miners and all who work or visit underground construction environments pause and reflect on safety in honor of Saint Barbara, the patron saint and protector of miners and tunnelers.

Did you know many tunnels feature shrines to pay homage to Saint (or Santa) Barbara, the patron saint and protector of miners and tunnelers? It’s true!

Each year on December 4th, people around the globe recognize Saint Barbara for protecting workers during the construction of tunnels and other underground structures. For us at Jacobs, it’s a time to pause and reflect on our continuous focus on safety in both mind and body through our Culture of Caring.

Saint Barbara day holds special meaning for our tunnel team, as they reflect on the early Christian saint and the long-standing tradition to place a statue by the entrance of tunnel projects during their construction. Saint Barbara lived in the 3rd century and is considered in many countries to be the patron saint, or protector, of miners and tunnelers.  

3RPORT Santa Barbara statue
3RPORT Santa Barbara statue

The practice of placing a Saint Barbara statue in a tunnel’s entrance occurs in many countries around the world. In fact, the Three Rivers Protection & Overflow Reduction tunnel (3RPORT) Project in Fort Wayne, Indiana follows the Saint Barbara tradition.

Our focus on safety

Building tunnels and other structures underground can be challenging and its complex health and safety-related risks add even more complexity. The underground is a very constrained environment within which to build such complicated structures, so maintaining a focus on safety is of paramount importance for all parties involved.

At Jacobs, we always act with integrity—taking responsibility for our work and caring for our people, while staying focused on safety and sustainability. We take daily precautions to ensure everyone returns home safely to their families each night. And when we refer to keeping “everyone” safe know that it extends not just to the consultant, contractor and owner’s personnel who are directly involved with a project, but also includes the broader community living and working in close proximity.

This philosophy is built into our foundation through Jacobs’ BeyondZero, our global Health, Safety, Security and Environment program. Through our commitment to keep workers and the communities where our projects are located safe, we mimic the tradition of asking Santa Barbara for protection.

“We incorporate safety into all of our tunnel projects,” states Jacobs Global Director for Tunnel & Ground Engineering Mark Johnson. “Whether through learning and sharing best practices from major international tunnel projects or by mitigating construction and operations-related safety risks through decisions taken during the design process.”

One such example is Sound Transit’s University Link (U-Link) project in Seattle. On U-Link, we’ve provided a full range of construction management (CM) services, including overall project management, resident engineering and CM services for the tunnels and stations civil works contracts,  partnering with Sound Transit on an extension of its light rail system northward from downtown to the University district.

“Tunnel construction of underground light rail systems in urban environments is one of the most demanding and technically complex forms of civil construction,” explains Jacobs Project Manager Paul Gasson. “We’re pleased to be part of making mobility for the Seattle area’s residents and visitors efficient and safe.”

And safety on U-Link started with construction management consultant team (CMC) itself. The team worked an impressive 570,746 CMC hours without accident or incident!

We’re also leading the way in addressing industry-wide modern safety-related challenges as diverse as the impact of alternative fuel vehicles on the operational safety of tunnels, and automating key design processes to improve efficiency, consistency, quality and by extension, safety. We are proactively pursuing key advances such as the implementation of smart infrastructure technologies on underground structures to improve an owner’s ability to manage their underground assets safely and efficiently.

“Looking ahead, we’ll continue to develop tunnel solutions that safely address what’s next in transportation and water infrastructure. We’re building upon the way that we solve the challenges of today, to create new solutions for the even-more challenging tunnel projects of tomorrow,” added Johnson.  

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