‘We are bringing our absolute best’

Peter Zwaal

In an ideal world, Peter Zwaal would be in his boots every day, doing the rounds on the project site. ‘I don’t want to see progress only on paper. It’s important to show your face and keep in touch with the actual building work.’ But the reality of a senior site agent on a mega project like the new sea lock in Terneuzen is that every day comes with a new series of meetings. And some days there is simply not enough time to step outside.

There isn’t much you could teach Peter (53) about the world of construction. ‘Green and orange’ have been part of his life for 31 years already. ‘I first got my feet in the clay on an internship in 1988, and from there I worked my way up to foreman and eventually senior site agent. Without all those years of experience, I wouldn’t know where to begin on a project like this one. We started out with a team of almost complete strangers, and it’s great to see how you can forge this into a tight-knit unit. How? By seeking out the chemistry that allows us get the most out of each and every one of us.’

‘We are bringing our absolute best to this project. Because of the sheer size of it, there are so many interfaces to take into consideration: planning, logistics, quality, safety – it takes full commitment from everyone to ensure we keep it all functioning seamlessly.’

Hobby

As Peter sees it, there is only one good way to deal with the immense pressure: stay calm and show you are in control. The fact that these days he sees a few grey hairs in the mirror is something he takes in his stride. ‘Your job has to be your hobby. Every morning, the seven site agents – whose numbers will run up to fifteen next year – meet to discuss the plans for the day. What’s on the agenda, and what are the risks we need to consider? I like to be appreciative of people’s views, I know how important that can be. But sometimes you have to be an arrogant bastard and say: “This is how it gets done”.’

Peter’s involvement in the Terneuzen project began in January 2018, after he’d been out of the running for almost a year as a result of a serious bacteriological infection and the ensuing revalidation. ‘After my return I spent six months going over the lock’s design together with an experienced planner. We acted as a sounding board for the designers, helping them to check the validity of their work.’  

Most difficult phase

‘I consider the current phase of the project to be the most difficult one: placing the diaphragm walls, moving earth and creating construction pits. Logistics play a big part in this and that’s the bit you don’t learn in school.’

‘The panels of the diaphragms go into the earth to a depth of up to fifty metres, in a round-the-clock process throughout the working week. It’s always a challenging job, but I’m seeing excellent quality here! Next year the focus will shift to pouring concrete for the lock gates. Another big job, but once we get that concrete train in motion, it should keep running smoothly enough.’