21 Construction Risks That Can Derail Your Project (And How to Avoid Them)

Category: Jobsite | By ClockShark | 6 minute read | Updated Nov 7, 2023
21 Construction Risks That Can Derail Your Project (And How to Avoid Them)

Construction projects involve many complex variables that can lead to unforeseen risks and challenges.

From fluctuating material costs to poor weather, construction risks can quickly derail projects and damage bottom lines if not properly managed. That's why having a comprehensive risk management strategy is critical for contractors and project owners.

By identifying and preparing for potential risks early on, construction firms can greatly improve their chances of delivering projects on time and within budget.

Table of content

  1. Delays
  2. Cost overruns
  3. Accidents
  4. Subcontractor default
  5. Supply chain disruptions
  6. Quality defects
  7. Safety hazards
  8. Contract disputes
  9. Weather events
  10. Permitting delays
  11. Labor shortages
  12. Material shortages
  13. Equipment failures
  14. Change orders
  15. Poor communication
  16. Inadequate insurance
  17. Financial problems
  18. Legal disputes
  19. Vandalism
  20. Theft
  21. Changing regulations

Common construction risks

Construction is a complex and challenging industry, and many risks can arise during a project. 

Construction companies of all sizes are vulnerable to construction risks, but smaller companies may be particularly at risk. This is because smaller companies may need more resources and more experience in managing construction risks.

Here are the most common construction risks:


1. Delays

When projects fall behind schedule, it can lead to increased expenses, reduced productivity, and potential legal disputes. 

These delays can stem from a variety of factors, including inadequate planning, poor communication, unforeseen site conditions, labor shortages, and inclement weather. 

To mitigate the risk of delays, it is important to:

  • Conduct thorough planning and scheduling.
  • Establish clear communication channels and protocols.
  • Identify and manage potential risks early on.
  • Monitor project progress closely and address delays promptly.
  • Conduct regular site inspections and quality control checks.
  • Continuously evaluate and adapt the project plan.


2. Cost overruns

Cost overruns can occur when the actual cost of a project exceeds the budgeted amount. 

This can be caused by a variety of factors, including inaccurate estimates, unforeseen changes to the project scope, and unexpected material costs.

To mitigate the risks associated with cost overruns, construction companies should:

  • Conduct regular cost audits and reviews.
  • Monitor labor costs and productivity.
  • Manage change orders effectively.
  • Develop detailed project budgets and track progress against them.
  • Conduct thorough cost estimations early on.


3. Accidents

Accidents on construction sites can have a devastating impact on worker safety, project timelines, and overall costs. When accidents occur, they can lead to serious injuries, fatalities, and disruptions to project workflow. 

These accidents can stem from a variety of factors, including improper training, unsafe work conditions, inadequate safety equipment, and hazardous work practices. 

To avoid the risk of accidents, it is important to:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive safety program.
  • Conduct regular safety audits and inspections.
  • Provide comprehensive safety training to all workers.
  • Enforce strict safety rules and regulations.
  • Implement a comprehensive PPE program.
  • Continuously review and update safety procedures.


4. Subcontractor default

When a subcontractor fails to perform their contractual obligations, it can have a significant impact on construction projects, leading to delays, cost overruns, and legal disputes. 

The consequences of subcontractor default can be severe, forcing the general contractor to scramble to find replacement subcontractors, rework completed work, and potentially face liquidated damages for project delays.

To effectively reduce the risks associated with subcontractor default, construction companies can:

  • Select the subcontractors carefully.
  • Have a written contract in place with each contractor.
  • Monitor subcontractor performance closely.
  • Take steps to address any performance issues early on.


5. Supply chain disruptions

Supply chain disruptions can occur when there are delays or problems with the delivery of materials or equipment. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including weather events, labor disputes, and global conflicts.

To mitigate the risk of supply chain disruptions, it is important to:

  • Have a backup plan in place.
  • Diversify your supplier network.
  • Establish clear communication channels with suppliers.
  • Monitor supply chain trends and forecasts.
  • Negotiate payment terms.
  • Develop contingency plans for supply chain disruptions.


6. Quality defects

Quality defects can have a significant impact on the cost of a project. Repairs and rework can be costly and, in some cases, may even require the demolition and reconstruction of parts of the project. It can also lead to delays in the project schedule, as repairs and rework may take time to complete.

Common causes of quality defects in construction include:

  • Poor workmanship: Poor workmanship can be caused by a lack of training, experience, or supervision. It can also be caused by rushing the job or using improper tools and techniques.
  • Defective materials: Defective materials can be caused by manufacturing defects, improper storage, or damage during transportation.
  • Inadequate design: Inadequate design can lead to quality defects in several ways. For example, the design may not be appropriate for the site conditions, or it may not take into account all of the forces that will be acting on the structure.


To mitigate the risk of quality defects, construction companies should:

  • Hire experienced workers.
  • Use high-quality materials.
  • Implement a robust quality control program.
  • Conduct regular quality audits.


7. Safety hazards

Construction sites are inherently dangerous places, and there is always the risk of accidents and injuries. Accidents can lead to medical expenses, lost productivity, and legal liability for the contractor.

Some of the most common safety hazards in construction include:

  • Falls from height: Falls from height are one of the leading causes of death and serious injury in construction. Falls can occur from scaffolding, ladders, roofs, and other elevated work surfaces.
  • Struck-by objects: Struck-by objects are another leading cause of death and serious injury in construction. Workers can be struck by falling objects, moving vehicles, or flying debris.
  • Caught-in/between: Caught-in/between accidents occur when a worker is trapped or crushed between two objects or surfaces. This can happen in machinery, equipment, or tight spaces.
  • Electrocution: Electrocution can occur when a worker comes into contact with a live electrical current. Electrical hazards are present in many construction activities, such as wiring, trenching, and operating electrical equipment.
  • Trenching and excavation: Trenching and excavation activities can be dangerous if proper safety precautions are not taken. Cave-ins, falls, and exposure to hazardous substances are all potential hazards.


To mitigate the risks associated with safety hazards, construction companies should:

  • Develop a safety plan.
  • Provide training and supervision.
  • Implement a comprehensive PPE program.
  • Conduct regular safety audits and inspections.
  • Maintain a clean and organized work site.

8. Contract disputes

Contract disputes are a common construction risk that can arise between the contractor, the client, and subcontractors. 

They can be costly and time-consuming to resolve and also damage the relationships between the parties involved.

Contract disputes can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Scope of work: Disagreements over the scope of work are one of the most common causes of contract disputes. This can happen if the scope of work is not clearly defined in the contract or if there are changes to the scope of work during the project.
  • Payment: Payment disputes can also arise. This can happen if the client is late in making payments or if the contractor believes that they are not being paid fairly for the work that they have done.
  • Schedule: Schedule delays can also lead to contract disputes. This can happen if the project is delayed due to unforeseen circumstances or if the contractor is not able to meet the project schedule due to factors outside of their control.
  • Quality defects: Quality defects can also lead to contract disputes. This can happen if the contractor does not meet the quality standards specified in the contract.


To mitigate the risk of contract disputes in construction projects, companies should:

  • Have a well-written contract.
  • Document all project activities.
  • Establish clear payment terms and procedures.
  • Establish clear communication channels.


9. Weather events

Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes, can damage equipment and materials, delay projects, and even cause injuries and fatalities. Even less severe weather events, such as heavy rain, high winds, and cold temperatures, can disrupt construction activities and cause delays.

To mitigate the risk of weather events, construction companies can:

  • Develop a weather contingency plan.
  • Secure equipment and materials.
  • Use weather-resistant materials.
  • Train workers on weather safety.


10. Permitting delays

Permitting delays are a common construction risk that can cause delays and cost overruns. 

They are required for a variety of construction activities, such as building new structures, renovating existing structures, and performing demolition work. 

Delays in obtaining permits can be caused by many factors, including:

  • Incomplete or inaccurate permit applications: Construction companies should carefully review all permit applications before submitting them to ensure that they are complete and accurate. Incomplete or inaccurate applications can be returned by the permitting agency, which can cause delays.
  • Lack of required documentation: In addition to the permit application, construction companies may also need to submit other documentation, such as engineering drawings and environmental impact statements. Construction companies should ensure that all required documentation is submitted with the permit application to avoid delays.
  • Backlogs at the permitting agency: Permitting agencies are often understaffed and overworked, which can lead to backlogs in the permitting process. This can be a particular problem for large or complex projects.


To mitigate the risks associated with permitting delays, construction companies should:

  • Submit complete and accurate applications.
  • Be aware of zoning and environmental requirements.
  • Have a professional prepare the application.
  • Be flexible with the schedule.


11. Labor shortages

Labor shortages can have a significant impact on construction projects. They can lead to delays, cost overruns, and quality defects. 

Delays can occur because there are not enough workers to complete the work on time. Cost overruns can occur because contractors have to pay higher wages to attract and retain workers. 

Quality defects can occur because workers are rushed or inexperienced.

To effectively reduce the risks associated with labor shortages, construction companies should:

  • Offer competitive wages and benefits.
  • Invest in training and development.
  • Use technology.
  • Promote the construction industry as a career path.
  • Be flexible with work arrangements.


12. Material shortages

Material shortages in the construction industry can significantly impact project timelines, budgets, and overall safety. When essential materials are delayed or unavailable, construction activities are halted, leading to extended project schedules and increased labor costs. 

Additionally, material shortages can force contractors to resort to using alternative or subpar materials, potentially compromising the quality and integrity of the construction work. 

To effectively mitigate material shortage risks, construction companies should:

  • Diversify supplier network.
  • Communicate material requirements early and regularly.
  • Monitor material availability.
  • Implement inventory management practices.
  • Develop contingency plans for material shortages.


13. Equipment failures

Equipment failures can lead to delays, cost overruns, and safety hazards. 

When essential equipment malfunctions or breaks down, construction activities are halted, causing disruptions to the project schedule and increasing labor costs to repair or replace the equipment. 

Additionally, equipment failures can compromise worker safety, particularly if they occur during critical operations. 

To mitigate the risk of equipment failure, construction companies should:

  • Implement a preventive maintenance program.
  • Train operators on proper equipment use.
  • Conduct regular equipment inspections.
  • Upgrade or replace outdated equipment.


14. Change orders

Change orders can pose significant risks to project timelines, budgets, and overall quality. 

When unexpected changes arise, they can disrupt the project schedule, leading to delays and increased labor costs. 

Additionally, change orders can introduce ambiguity and uncertainty regarding the project's scope and cost, potentially leading to disputes between the owner and the contractor. 

To effectively reduce the risks associated with change orders, construction companies should:

  • Establish a comprehensive scope of work.
  • Conduct thorough site investigations and assessments.
  • Establish clear change order procedures.
  • Communicate changes promptly and transparently.
  • Document all changes in writing.


15. Poor communication

Poor communication between the contractor, the client, and subcontractors can lead to delays, cost overruns, and quality defects.

When clear and consistent communication channels are lacking, misunderstandings and misinterpretations can arise, leading to costly errors, delays, and disputes between stakeholders. Miscommunication can also hinder collaboration and coordination, impeding efficient project execution and increasing the likelihood of accidents. 

To mitigate the risks associated with poor communication, construction companies can:

  • Establish clear communication expectations.
  • Use plain language and avoid technical jargon.
  • Provide regular updates.
  • Schedule regular meetings.
  • Encourage open communication.
  • Actively listen to feedback.


16. Inadequate insurance

Inadequate insurance coverage in the construction industry can expose project stakeholders to significant financial risks and legal liabilities. 

When essential insurance policies are lacking or insufficient, contractors, subcontractors, and property owners can face substantial financial burdens in the event of accidents, property damage, or other unforeseen events.

To mitigate the risks associated with inadequate insurance, construction companies should:

  • Understand the different types of insurance required for construction projects.
  • Assess the project's risks.
  • Thoroughly review insurance policy documents.
  • Update insurance policies as needed.
  • Communicate insurance requirements to subcontractors.


17. Financial problems

Financial problems can have a domino effect, impacting project timelines, quality, and overall safety. 

When construction companies face cash flow issues, they may struggle to pay suppliers, subcontractors, and workers on time. This can lead to delays in material deliveries, disruptions to work schedules, and potential legal disputes. 

Additionally, financial difficulties can force companies to make compromises on materials, workmanship, or safety standards, compromising the quality and integrity of the construction project.

To avoid financial risks, construction companies can:

  • Conduct thorough cost estimates before bidding on projects.
  • Create detailed budgets and track progress against them.
  • Negotiate favorable payment terms with customers and suppliers.
  • Seek professional financial advice when needed.
  • Conduct regular financial audits.


18. Legal disputes

Legal disputes in the construction industry can arise from various sources, including contractual disagreements, defective workmanship, property damage, and personal injury claims. These disputes can have significant financial and reputational consequences for construction companies, leading to project delays, cost overruns, and even bankruptcy.

To minimize the risks of legal disputes, construction companies can:

  • Use unambiguous contract language.
  • Maintain detailed records of project progress and changes.
  • Conduct regular project reviews.
  • Establish clear payment terms and procedures
  • Hire qualified and experienced subcontractors
  • Prioritize safety and quality control

19. Vandalism

When buildings, equipment, and materials are damaged or destroyed through malicious acts, it can result in costly repairs, replacements, and disruptions to the construction process.

To avoid the risk of vandalism, construction companies can:

  • Secure the site with fencing, gates, and security cameras.
  • Install adequate lighting to illuminate dark areas.
  • Establish clear policies and procedures regarding site access, reporting of vandalism incidents, and cooperation with law enforcement.
  • Hire a security guard to patrol the site at night.
  • Keep the site clean and tidy. 
  • Educate workers about vandalism prevention.

20. Theft

Theft on construction sites can lead to significant financial losses, project delays, and safety hazards. 

When valuable equipment, tools, and materials are stolen, construction companies are forced to replace or repair stolen items, disrupting project schedules and increasing costs. It can also create a sense of fear and insecurity among workers, potentially affecting their morale and productivity.

To reduce the risk of theft on construction sites, companies should:

  • Establish a secure perimeter around the construction site. 
  • Install security cameras and motion detectors. 
  • Control access to the site by using security guards or access cards. 
  • Keep track of all tools and equipment. 
  • Store tools and equipment in a secure location when they are not in use. 
  • Encourage workers to report any suspicious activity immediately. 


21. Changing regulations

When new regulations or amendments to existing ones are introduced, they can disrupt the project's progress, leading to delays and increased costs associated with redesign, resubmissions, and compliance audits. 

To mitigate the risks associated with changing regulations, construction companies should:

  • Establish a system for tracking changes in regulations. 
  • Educate the team about the importance of compliance. 
  • Conduct regular audits to ensure that the company complies with all applicable regulations.
  • Stay informed about changes in the construction industry.
  • Develop a plan for responding to regulatory changes. 

Extra tips on how to mitigate construction risks

There are several things small construction companies can do to mitigate construction risks. These include:

  • Carefully plan and manage projects: This includes developing a detailed project schedule and budget, identifying and tracking potential risks, and communicating effectively with all stakeholders.
  • Use clear and concise contracts: Contracts should clearly define the scope of work, payment terms, and change order process.
  • Hire qualified subcontractors: It is important to hire subcontractors who are licensed, insured, and have a good reputation.
  • Obtain adequate insurance coverage: This includes liability insurance, workers' compensation insurance, and builder's risk insurance.
  • Implement a safety program: This includes providing safety training to employees and subcontractors, identifying and eliminating safety hazards, and conducting regular safety inspections.
  • Review your insurance coverage regularly: Make sure that you have adequate coverage for the risks that your business faces.

Mastering construction risks

Construction risks are a reality, but they can be mitigated by taking appropriate steps. 

By carefully planning and managing projects, using clear and concise contracts, hiring qualified subcontractors, obtaining adequate insurance coverage, and implementing a safety program, small construction companies can minimize their risk exposure and protect their businesses.

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