Published on October 26, 2021

One million work hours reached on Vision Northland project

A major milestone on Essentia Health’s Vision Northland project was reached near the end of September when crews surpassed one million work hours.

It’s the culmination of more than two years of work by McGough Construction and its trade partners in conjunction with Essentia.

“We’re really proud of the work that’s been done so far,” said Dr. Robert Erickson, Essentia’s physician lead for the $900 million project that will revolutionize health care in the region. “We are really starting to see the fruits of our labor in action as the building begins to take shape.”

With the milestone comes an impressive safety record. To date, just one injury has been recorded that resulted in lost time. Kale Fischer, McGough’s safety manager, said minimizing injuries on such a large project begins with thorough preparation. That started by bringing in Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MNOSHA) consultation early on.

“Safety really comes down to a team effort, and it’s a goal everyone shares,” said Fischer. “Each employee on site is assigned a ‘stop-work authority’, which gives each person the responsibility of owning a safety observation and seeing it through until it’s resolved.”

Throughout the project, both Essentia and McGough have worked diligently to create a safe construction site.

“McGough has an acute understanding of working on large projects like this and making sure they are incredibly safe,” said Dr. Erickson. “Their focus on safety matches our goals of making sure this project was done thoroughly and safely every step of the way.”

While there is extensive planning that goes into the project before there are even shovels in the ground, Fischer said they talk safety daily.

“Each crew pre-plans its workday to control hazards that may be encountered and prevent incidents before they have the opportunity to occur,” said Fischer.

It also takes a lot of coordination between crew leaders, architects, the city of Duluth and more. Each entity shares critical information routinely to make sure all workers are well informed of critical safety knowledge.

It’s not just job safety that has to be taken into account. Working with hundreds of workers on site simultaneously has been challenging with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Both Essentia and McGough have worked tirelessly and have followed the guidance of state and federal health departments to ensure the impact of COVID is minimal. Practices to limit the spread of the virus on the job site include, easy access to vaccinations, social distancing, staggering break times to limit large groups of people in one area, regular cleaning and sanitation of high-traffic areas, screenings when entering the job site and several mitigation factors for those who are exposed.

“We know this virus spreads very easily, and a large outbreak on our job site would be devastating for our communities, employees and our trade partners, so we have implemented very stringent mitigation measures to keep everyone as safe and healthy as we can,” said Fischer. “It’s important, not only from a construction standpoint, but also from a community standpoint. The more we can limit the spread on our job site, the less chance there is for someone to spread it to the community.”

At about 50% complete, roughly one million more working hours will be required before the project is done. The project eventually will result in a state-of-the-art replacement for St. Mary’s Medical Center. The building will be enclosed in 2022, with construction set to conclude in the first quarter of 2023 and patient care commencing in the third quarter of 2023. 

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