Irby Construction Company

Irby Construction picIrby Construction Co.’s focus on safety and building relationships with employees and subcontractors led the company to a recent major milestone. By Jim Harris

Irby Construction Company’s emphasis on safety, quality, performance and teamwork has guided the company for more than 70 years. “We work hard to build a family atmosphere among our employees and that translates to a culture of excellence in all aspects of our business,” says Lee Jones, president of the Richland, Miss.,-based power infrastructure contractor.

The company’s management and leadership team regularly spends time in the field with supervisors and crewmembers leading safety meetings and walking projects. ”We try to create a strong rapport with our crewmembers and celebrate milestones when they occur”, says Jones. A long-standing tradition is hosting end-of project cookouts for crew members before moving on to the next project. This family dynamic is one part of the foundation and management style that has created leaders in the field for Irby Construction.

“Our employees know that we care about them and their families, and we are all very engaged with our customer base,” Jones adds. “Irby has a 70 year history of providing our customers with safe work practices, quality service, effective communication and innovative solutions.”

A History of Innovation

Stuart C. Irby Jr., incorporated Irby Construction Company in 1946. Since its founding, Irby Construction has installed more than 185,000 miles of power lines in 43 states and eight countries.

Irby Construction’s history dates back to 1917, when Stuart C. Irby Jr.’s father, Stuart C. Irby, led the construction of an 11-mile, 22-kilovolt (kv) power transmission line through Hattiesburg, Miss. The elder Irby’s company, Stuart C. Irby Company, a wholesale electrical supplier and electrical contractor, erected power lines for rural and municipal electric systems throughout the Southeast.

The company’s long history includes being the first contractor to construct 765-kV lines in the United States. In addition, Irby Construction was the first company to use helicopters to construct transmission lines. Irby Construction box

Today, Irby Construction is a leader in all types of power line construction including extra high voltage lines, transmission and distribution systems, electrical substations, maintenance and emergency restoration. Its clients include the nation’s largest utilities, power providers as well as municipalities and cooperatives.

The company is an operating unit of Quanta Services, the industry-leading engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor serving the electric power, oil and gas, and communications industries.

Experienced Staff

The diversity of Irby Construction’s industry experience and the tenure of many of its employees distinguish the company from its peers.

“We are experienced in building all types of power systems in all geographies – from swamps to deserts and mountains,”

Executive Director of Business Development Andre Foster says. “The average tenure among our executive team is 25 to 30 years, and we have several superintendents celebrating more than 45 years here.

“Our experience really is our difference, and our clients can see that through the constructability reviews we conduct before we even begin a project,” he adds. “We walk hand-in-hand with our clients to make sure that what is engineered can be constructed, and we use innovative techniques to build those systems.”

Project Experience

The company recently applied its knowledge of unique construction methods and difficult terrain to a 12.2-mile transmission line project in Brunswick, Ga., for the Georgia Transmission Corp.

Most of the 115-kv power line was built along a coastal salt marsh alongside Interstate 95. The company used an Erickson Air Crane helicopter to haul each pole base into the marsh, where they were vibrated into the ground through the use of a pneumatic hammer. The helicopter aligned and mounted the tops of the poles on each base. Crews then bolted the two portions together. The project was completed in 2013.

Other significant projects completed by the company within the past five years include the largest construction project in the history of Maine. Between 2010 and 2015, Irby Construction and joint venture partner Cianbro Corp. installed, modified and removed 230 miles of 345-kv and 115-kv electric transmission lines for Central Maine Power.

The project – dubbed the Maine Power Reliability project – consisted of 20 sections and segments, with separate milestone completion dates set for each segment. The company successfully met all completion dates as well as outage dates, it notes.

The Maine Power Reliability project included removing lattice towers and building new lattice towers on several major river crossings. The project encompassed 13 of the state’s 16 counties.

Irby Construction last year completed work on a 345-kV transmission line and substation in Arnegard, N.D., for the Basin Electric Power Cooperative. The project included installing ground grids, conduit systems, a cable trench, concrete foundations, steel structures and electrical bus work. The company installed all major equipment related to the substation including power circuit breakers, instrument transformers and disconnect switches. The project began in 2015 and concluded in 2016.

In May, the company plans to complete 47 miles of a 500-kV transmission line in Augusta, Ga., for Georgia Power Co. The line, which supports power generated by two new nuclear reactors, will be in service in 2018. “This is a marquee project for us in terms of its importance to Georgia Power Co.,” Foster says.

The total line is 55 miles long beginning at the Vogtle power plant in Waynesboro, Ga., ending at the Thomson Primary substation in Thomson, Ga. Work began on the project in 2015. 

A Safety Vision

Prospective clients and employees of Irby Construction are drawn to the company because of its safety record. “Safety in our industry carries a lot of weight. Whether you’re working as a general contractor or a subcontractor, your safety performance and safety culture are how a lot of project agreements are made,” Jones says. “Our internal safety culture is why we are able to recruit and maintain employees.”

Every new or returning employee of Irby Construction goes through a five-day orientation program that includes training on different safety topics including grounding and fall protection. Employees are also given OSHA 10-hour safety training. “We fly everyone in to our headquarters, house them for a week and put them through this program,” Foster says. “It’s very expensive for us to do that, but the benefits we’ve received in terms of safety ratings and other metrics have shown this to be a positive program.”

The company maintains an above industry-average experience modification rate. This is maintained and improved through a number of ongoing initiatives, including site visits and ongoing training. “Our vision is to be a company that people want to work for by having the right safety culture in place,” Jones adds.

Helping Others Grow

The company frequently subcontracts aspects of its projects such as foundation work, row clearing, helicopter services, and testing and commissioning services. “Our subcontractors have a large role in the success of our projects,” Foster says. “We expect them to uphold the same level of quality and safety that we have set for ourselves.”

Irby Construction mentors many of the disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE), women-owned or minority-owned companies it works with. 

“We help our subcontractors position themselves to grow as we have grown,” Foster says. “We want to make sure our subcontractors have the equipment and necessary tools they need to be successful from a safety and project management standpoint.”

Recent Investments

Irby Construction continues to invest in ways to make its staff members safer. The company recently began using mobile tablet devices equipped with a proprietary system developed by Quanta Services that allows field supervisors and safety managers to conduct safety audits and record incidents, as well as data generation for hazard trends. This information is shared with corporate staff in real time. “The use of tablet computers and iPads are transforming the way we look at safety and project management in our company,” Foster says.

The company’s other recent investments include new bucket trucks used to install distribution lines. “We are always deploying new equipment, and buy new equipment on a yearly basis to perform our projects,” he adds.

Looking Forward

Irby Construction’s growth initiatives include expanding its distribution line and substation construction capabilities. “Currently, our projects are about 80 percent transmission line related,” Foster says, “With the rise in the economy, the market is trending toward distribution services.”

In addition to building new lines, many utility providers are also investing in ways to better secure existing substations. “We’re working with utilities on ways to harden facilities, whether that’s with fencing or by upgrading substations with new circuit breakers, transformers and relay components,” he adds.

The company is also seeing an increased demand for EPC projects. “A number of utilities are pushing projects out on a turnkey basis, so we are developing relationships with engineering firms to position ourselves for those opportunities when they become available,” Foster says.

Jones says the company remains focused on the core values it developed during its first 70 years in business while planning for the future. “We plan to continue to move forward and prosper and grow as a company,” he says.

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