It’s a simple question, really: if you were building something as straightforward as a backyard shed, would you use lumber that you’d left outside so long that it turned black with mould and sprouted fungus?
And now, a simpler question: would you use that same mouldy, rotting wood to build formwork designed to hold approximately 1,272,000 kilograms of wet concrete?
Because, apparently, one of the causes of a massive form work collapse at the Muskrat Falls project is the fact that the form work material had decayed, and no one appeared to take responsibility for preventing it from being used.
And it wasn’t hidden rot, lost and out of sight at the core of the timber, either.
Here’s a small section of the report on the collapse by DB Engineering: “The defects identified ... should be obvious to any carpenter, whether they are an apprentice, journeyman, or a master. For instance, decayed wood and fungus growth on a wooden structure should immediately raise questions and red flags. The quality of the wood was so poor in some cases that it could be picked at with a pen . ... It should not take a quality control program or inspection of any kind to highlight such an obvious defect.”
The form that collapsed had been built in the United States in November 2014. They were shipped to the site in December. By the time the collapse happened in May 2016, the formwork had been on site for 17 months.
“In our opinion, from the time the formwork modules arrived on-site, to the time the formwork modules were installed and concrete was poured around the formwork, the modules were exposed to the elements and were not protected adequately,” the report says. “It is unusual for this type of formwork to be fabricated several years before utilisation. Since the wooden structure was fabricated, stored and used over an extended duration, it would be expected that the material would be protected from the elements throughout its life cycle.”
The report found similar problems with other formwork: “The towers displayed evidence of severe weathering. The lumber planks were dark grey/black in colour due to the weathering. This is indicative of the towers having been damaged before installation. It is also an indication that the wood structures were not well protected in storage between fabrication and installation.”
Nalcor Energy, the overall overseer of the Muskrat Falls project, prides itself on safety, to the point that it insists that cars park facing outwards on its lot to lessen the risk of accidents. The main page of its website proclaims, “The number one priority at Nalcor Energy is safety. As we continue to drive our business to the next level, we are committed to achieving excellence in safety performance.”
So, here’s one last question, one the engineering report does not answer: how was this allowed to happen?