You are about to start your project. The owner (or their project manager) hands you access to the work site. You are good to go – or are you?
Unfortunately, contractors accept possession of the project work areas, or work area, and don’t check it.
Only several weeks later do they discover that there’s a problem, they’re losing money, the work is going slower than expected, or something doesn’t fit. Only when they investigate do they discover that the problems originate because the work site given to them wasn’t in accordance with the project specifications and contract document.
Often by then, it’s too late to complain.
So next time you are handed access, or possession, to project work areas, make sure you check it properly before accepting handover.
What you should check when you accept project work areas
Before accepting handover of an area from the client/owner or their project manager it’s important to check the following:
1. Can you get to the work area?
Sure the owner may have handed you access to the area but can you actually get your people, materials and equipment there? Frequently owners hurriedly clear the work area and think that’s good enough. If contractors can’t get their people, materials, and equipment to the work area, or it’s difficult to get stuff there because the owner is blocking the routes to the site then it will impact progress, cause delays, and ultimately cause the contractor additional expense.
When pricing the project always understand how you will get access to the work areas. If the owner must provide a road so your team can access the work areas then ensure that they deliver the road so you can get to the area. If there is doubt, then stipulate in your price what access you require, then ensure these requirements are included in the contract that you sign. Then importantly, before accepting the work area check that you can easily access it – can you get to it?
2. Do you have access to the full work area?
Owners and clients often only provide partial access to work areas. They seem to assume that as long as the contractor can start work somewhere that’s okay. But, often construction schedules require work to start in a specific area first, an area that’s on the critical path.
In addition, contractors plan their work so that resources aren’t working on top of each other, so that work can proceed in an orderly direction, a direction where access isn’t impeded by previously completed work, where equipment can easily get to, and where materials don’t have to be double handled and moved backward and forwards across the work site.
Be very wary about accepting partial access to the work area when you should have been granted full access. Make sure that this won’t adversely impact the construction schedule or the productivity of your resources, and that the work you complete now won’t block your access to other areas you are only able to get to later.
3. Is the area prepared properly, to the correct specifications and tolerances?
Frequently owners have to hand over sections of work that other contractors have prepared. This may be a leveled earth platform, an excavation or a concrete slab. It’s imperative that contractors check the previous work to ensure that it is in the right position, that levels and heights are correct and that the items meet the required specifications. So, if you’re accepting a leveled earth platform, is it in the right place? Is it to the right height and level?
If it’s too low and you’re pouring a concrete slab on top of the platform you may find that you require additional concrete to make up the low spots. If the area is too high you may find that your crews are spending additional time and money trimming the ground lower so that your concrete will be at the right level. If the ground hasn’t been compacted properly you may later find that your concrete slab and foundations constructed on the platform cracks and the owner will blame you.
Always carry out your own checks to ensure everything is in the correct position. Ask for the test results to confirm that what you’ll be building on has been formed and constructed to the correct specifications.
4. Is the area safe?
Once you accept access to the work area you will be responsible for the safety of the area. Sometimes owners hand over excavations done by previous contractors. Don’t accept them if the sides are excessively steep, meaning they could fall in on top of your crews.
Make sure that there aren’t boulders on the sides of the excavation which could fall onto your team working below. Fixing these problems will be expensive and time-consuming. You don’t want to have the owner or other contractors working above you, or performing dangerous tasks nearby which could injure your crew. Only accept a work area if it’s safe.
5. Has the owner fulfilled all of their obligations?
These might include completing demolitions, installing security and moving existing service and utility lines. If they haven’t you might end up doing the work, which will be an added cost and cause delays, or the client may do the work, but invariably this will interfere with your progress. Understand the client’s obligations and ensure that these have been met before accepting the work area.
Is the area as you expected? If it’s recently rained and the works are flooded or boggy is it reasonable for you to take the problem over? Well, it depends on the contract and what should be accepted as being reasonable. So if a previous contractor, or the owner, has excavated an area for your work, or they have prepared concrete foundations, then it would be reasonable to expect that these be handed to you in a dry state.
Sure, once you accept the area it will probably be your responsibility to keep the area dry unless otherwise stipulated in the contract, but you should be handed a dry area. So too if you are expecting to be handed a leveled area to work on you would expect this area to be firm ground.
If the owner or another contractor has previously worked in the area churning up the ground, excavating trenches which they haven’t filled and compacted properly, then probably you shouldn’t be expected to accept this mess. Always understand the contract document.
Your team is usually eager to get the project started. The owner will often be desperate to hand you the project site or work area so their project can begin and so that you don’t hit them with delay claims. Don’t be pressured into accepting a work area or project site which doesn’t meet the project requirements and specifications. Don’t accept an area where you are going to suffer delays and additional expense to work in the area and make it right.
Know the owner’s obligations in the contract and ensure that they meet these obligations.
When pricing projects always understand what condition the work areas will be when you’re handed them and how you will reach the areas. Price and plan the work accordingly. If you’ve assumed some conditions then ensure that these assumptions are included in your price and in the contract.
Accepting access to a work area which is difficult to reach, which is unsafe, which isn’t in accordance with the project specifications and requirements, or which doesn’t meet your reasonable expectations, will cause delays and additional costs. Always ensure that you check the work area thoroughly before you accept handover from the owner, to ensure that it complies. Don’t be caught with additional costs and delays.
Have you accepted a work site or area only to find later that there were problems?