A view from the trench

30 April 2012

Photo of Michael Lim in front of works on the Bush Road crossingThe last place 19-year-old Manukau Institute Technology (MIT) graduate Michael Lim expected to find himself working was in the trenches on Transpower's North Auckland and Northland project (NAaN).

The NAaN project will reinforce the power supply into the upper North Island. It involves installing a 220 kV underground cable from Pakuranga to Albany, connecting through Penrose substation and new substations being built at Hobson Street and Wairau Road.

Transpower saw an opportunity to offer local students looking to work within the infrastructure industry the chance to gain work experience on a large scale and complex project, so they partnered with The Manukau Institute with Technology to make it happen.

Michael was selected from a number of MIT Plumbing and Gas Fitting graduates to work on the Albany section of the upgrade project.

Michael has been involved in installing the ducts in the trenches through which the cable will be pulled later this year. The ducts are cut by hand and must be made flush against the other duct before they are tied and welded – skills that Michael's plumbing and gas fitting course has well equipped him with.

At first, Michael had some trepidation about entering the two-metre-deep benched trench. But once he had completed his confined space training and understood how much focus was placed on safety, he was a lot more confident.

“There is a huge emphasis on safety. Every morning we write up all the hazards on the project and go through all the possible safety issues. We know we are part of a team and need to look out for each other.”

One of Michael’s first jobs was to provide 'stand over'.

This is a critical role which involves constant visual and instrumental checking of the trench. Gas monitors are used prior to entering the trench and during the work to detect the presence of toxic or explosive gases. A sharp look out is kept for any situation that could cause flooding or suffocation. Anybody working in the trench must wear a safety harness.

“You need to know who is down there and what to do should anything happen” he said.

Michael was also surprised to learn that trench digging is a meticulous and precise process that needs to take account of underground services such as water, power, gas and fibre. An inadvertent hit on any of these services could be costly in terms of lost time while repaired, and cause unnecessary disruption to businesses and residents in the area.

“This is one of the biggest challenges on the project, particularly because so much of the work is done directly in the road.”

Michael believes the opportunity to work on the NAaN project has taught him a lot of great lessons.

“I have learnt how to be a part of a team and to do things right. Work experience is so valuable and this job has opened me up to other possibilities and opportunities,” he said.