Managing your construction site in winter
In this country we carry on constructing through the winter— and the art of effective project management is the proactive consideration of this. Once something like weather has affected or delayed the works, the impact of this will be felt in every follow-on trade, and possibly be one of those issues you will have to live with in the final product for years to come if conditions were allowed to dictate the quality.
You need to consider the wider impacts on the scheme as well.
Let’s take a look at the issues of building in winter, so by predicting the impacts, you can begin to mitigate.
Certain works will be adversely affected during low or freezing temperatures. Take brickwork for example — if below freezing, the water content in the mortar may freeze, which will affect the chemical procedure. The resultant mix can fail due to cement and sand pockets being unbounded by the water which is freezing.
In addition, frozen water expands, which can cause problems within the brick/block-work. This could result in areas affected in this way being demolished and rebuilt. Disruption to this particularly critical path will impact on the programme, as well as the cost of more mortar, bricks and labour. The same applies to any ‘wet’ trade, so concrete, render and so on are all affected.
Whilst we cannot predict temperatures completely, we can anticipate the time of year in which we are at the most vulnerable to cold issues and try to commence the works to avoid this. Focusing on the actual time of year rather than just the individual timings in the programme can mitigate these issues.
Safety and Motivation
Building sites are inherently dangerous and unpleasant environments, made no less so by the onset of winter. The mobility of workers is decreased due to layers of clothing; risk of slipping and sliding is heightened; and the use of gloves is particularly inhibiting. The management of safety on site is all of our concern, and we need to anticipate additional measures to ensure safety as the weather worsens.
Let’s also consider productivity during the bad weather — we tend to slow down, lose focus a little, and certainly struggle to maintain full motivation for the day. It would be naïve in the extreme to think that this does not occur on site.
As project manager you can look to mitigate the effects of the winter weather conditions partially by considering programme performance compliance in the builder’s contract. Programme the works to be slightly less productive during the poor weather, and maybe looking for ways to make the site a more motivated and convivial place during the poor conditions.
Certainly I have found that a Friday morning site visit armed with tea is a good way to make sure everyone is on time and happy to be there (the cost of a round of tea is a lot less than lost hours of production). Think about the environment that you are engaging operatives in — moderate and cater for them to ensure that the works proceed according to our realistic and accurate programme. I draw the line at group hugs though!
The onset of shorter hours of daylight also impedes progress unless we mitigate — floodlighting and site heating are essential to ensure full days can be maintained, and as project manager you need to make sure that this is provided during the worst of the winter. While you can incorporate this requirement into the prelims of your contracts, look for the ‘gaps’ between the contractors — if the bricklayers finish up and clear away from site, they will of course take their floodlights with them. The carpenters will bring new ones along, but what happens if they are delayed or there is a problem?
In many cases you may look to provide plant and equipment of this nature as part of the site management, meaning you are not left without floodlighting and heating. There is no perfect solution or answer, but my point is that you consider and debate the issue towards an acceptable solution. We don’t want our sites packing up at 2.15pm every day during January!
Building sites are excellent sources of scrap metal, building materials, high-value items, tools and plant. There are many toe-rags making a living from preying on small building sites for their whole income. Major construction sites with large on-site overheads have budgets and facilities for full-time security, and as such are hard to pilfer from.
Our sites are smaller and often with a large number of different organisations and individuals coming and going, rather than one main contractor in possession of the whole site for the duration of the project. The efficiencies and savings we make when doing our own project management are often at the expense of the overheads — security, safety, logistics and neighbourly issues.
At this time of year, the increased hours of darkness are an obvious benefit for the thief. The bad weather tends to see sites more unmanned than usual, and the nature of the ‘sub-contractor’ approach makes the presence of a new person on site less noted or worried about by neighbours or passers-by.
Think about how you can manage these concerns.
Budget probably precludes security personnel, but you may look at imaginative means for the fit-out stage when the high-value items are on site. CCTV accessed via the internet is a good means of monitoring the project, but CCTV is often only useful for seeing what has already happened rather than preventing it from happening in the first place.
The management of the programme can be an oblique yet effective means of enhancing security — what may be considered clever programing leads us to getting the superstructure completed during the summer, to avoid winter working outside. We then tend to forget the possible impacts of bad weather as the building is secure and weathered in. So we then get deliveries of high-value items such as kitchens, copper wire, sockets, boilers and the like. My advice at this point is to consider the deliveries to suit the fixing schedule, to avoid these high-value items sitting around tempting fate.