RICHLAND, Wash. – Even when the sun sets each day on the EM Hanford Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) jobsite, workers continue moving the project forward on its path to treating tank waste.
“We like to fly under the radar as much as possible, be the silent partners,” said Kelly Lofton, night shift superintendent with Bechtel National, Inc., the WTP contractor. “If we can complete a job at night and the day shift comes in and asks, ‘Wait, when did that get done?’ then I consider that a win.”
There are just under 250 employees who work the night shift, about a tenth the size of the day shift workforce. For people working in construction, the night shift starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 4 or 4:30 a.m.
“The night shift expands the project’s work production, helping meet milestones and moves us forward toward completion,” Lofton said. “Even with a small crew, we’re able to complete work the day shift is unable to finish.”
One of the biggest limitations for the day shift workforce is congestion; there are more people and more equipment moving.
“Fewer people working can be a benefit,” said Tracey Hagood, Effluent Management Facility piping superintendent. “During the day, two or three crews would have to stop working if we wanted to move a lift or large piece of equipment. We have more flexibility to move work around and work in areas that are hard to get to when there are more people.”
A small administrative staff supports the night shift workers, which includes the superintendents, field engineers, startup engineers, a construction technician, health and safety personnel, an administrative assistant, and quality assurance personnel. However, limited access to the staff creates challenges, and careful work planning and coordination is essential.
“Communication is the biggest challenge,” Lofton said. “Our superintendents come in at 4 p.m. to do turnover with the day shift. We have to work with the day shift to make sure that we both have what we need and that we’re supporting each other.”
This includes identifying work scope, answering questions, and ensuring the night shift has the right materials and equipment before work begins, because getting them later can be challenging.
“There are advantages to being on an overnight shift,” said Bobby Campbell, electrical superintendent. “I like the problem-solving aspect of working the night shift. There are fewer resources available to us, so we have to come together to answer questions and work through the issues we encounter.”
It’s not difficult to see why some people enjoy the night shift; the jobsite is relatively quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of the day shift. While there are still the unmistakable sounds of construction, there are fewer people moving about, fewer radios going off, and fewer vehicles moving.
“It’s a different lifestyle,” Lofton said. “Family balance can be difficult because you’re sleeping when everyone else is awake. You have to have the support of your family and you have to watch your vitamin D levels. But it’s quieter and easier to focus on getting the work done.”
It's clear the night shift crew members are instrumental in helping WTP reach its goals, and they are proud of what they do.
“We’re one team,” Hagood said. “We’re all here – whether day shift or night shift – to complete the job while maintaining quality and keeping everyone safe.”