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Issues, Problems and Risks in Construction Projects and Ways of Mitigating Them

| August 29, 2016

Introduction

Organizations often embark on projects so as to improve the quality of products and services that they offer to their clients and the working conditions of employees. Whilst the end result is usually expected to be positive, there are several challenges, problems and risks that are faced during implementation of these projects (Huemann, 2010). Therefore, it is necessary for the parties in charge to carry out an in-depth analysis of the possible issues that may arise when making plans for undertaking certain projects. This helps in the formulation of counter measures that can reduce the adversities that the risk can cause. One of the projects that are undertaken by organizations is construction. Regardless of whether the construction project is being undertaken on a large scale or a small scale, there are several risks, issues and problems that need to be addressed. According to Rounds and Segner (2011), typical risks in construction projects can be categorized into physical, construction, design and technology risks. Other issues that may arise in such projects include resource or time constraints, health and safety risks and incompetence among the workforce (Schwalbe, 2010). This report intends to discuss some of the key issues, risks and problems in the construction industry, and also present ways in which they can be mitigated.

Issues/Problems

Richbell (2009) classifies issues associated with construction projects into two broad categories. The first category comprises of issues that directly affect the construction process, and are referred to as construction issues. The second category comprises of issues that indirectly affect the construction process, and are referred to as peripheral issues.

Construction Issues/Problems

Cost Overrides

Cost overrides are considered to be among the key construction issues in such projects. It is quite common for construction projects, especially those that are to be implemented on a large scale, to prepare costs and estimates considerably much earlier than the time of implementation. This is often done without sufficient consideration of contingencies (Kubba, 2010). Generally, there are several main factors that may cause cost overruns in construction projects. Among these are delays in completion of certain stages of the construction project that may be caused by, among other issues, late deliveries of construction materials (Fewings, 2013). Another contributing factor to cost overrides is the inadequate or incomplete specifications on the project drawings, which causes project managers to seek expert intervention (Olawale & Sun, 2010). In worst cases, failure to address such issues promptly may lead to a halt in the project.

The issue of cost overruns can be avoided by constant research to establish the prices of equipment and materials just before the project begins so as to update the budget estimates to match the current prices (Ross & Williams, 2012). Even though this might not be very accurate, it reduced the gap between the estimated and the actual expenditure. When acquiring the plans for the construction project it is necessary for the project manger to ensure that the architect or engineer involved has exhaustively broken down all the specifications involved (Whitfield, 2012). In addition to saving on costs for expert assistance, it will also save on the overall construction time. It is also vital for suppliers to be exhaustively evaluated by referring to previous projects to which they have supplied materials. This will enable the project managers to select the most reliable suppliers, avoiding extra costs due to delays in delivery of materials.

Whilst the mentioned issues can be solved by project managers through effective co-ordination of the general requirements, there exist other factors that cause cost overrides, which project managers may not be able to avoid regardless of how efficiently they manage their systems. These include unanticipated rises in market prices of materials needed in the construction project, unpredictable technical or human-resource issues, inaccurate estimation of costs in comparison to actual construction costs (Kubba, 2010).

Delays

Time issues that affect construction often lead to delays in completion of the project (Keane & Caletka, 2009). This issue is closely related to cost overrides because extension of project completion time in most cases leads to incurrence of extra costs. One of the leading causes of time issues in construction projects is untimely delivery of equipment and materials by suppliers (Munier, 2012; Forsman et al., 2011). Government restraints also contribute to delays experienced in construction projects because it is important for project managers get clearance form construction regulatory bodies before starting projects (Best & Valence, 2012). This factor especially affects companies that are in the construction industry and dealing with large construction projects. Other factors that may cause delays in commencement or completion of construction projects include changes that are made in design and construction schedules.

Most of the measures that can be taken by project managers to limit the negative impacts of delays in projects are closely related to those that ought to be undertaken to reduce cost overrides (Kubba, 2010). Other measures include ensuring that designs and materials to be used in the construction project are within the standards that are specified by the government.  This helps to limit delays caused by government agencies that verify if the structure to be constructed is in adherence to the set standards. Delays that can be caused because of schedule changes can be avoided by ensuring that a thorough consideration of other indirect factors is factored when planning to implement the construction project (Best & Valence, 2012). However, there still exist factors that cannot be avoided by project managers in minimizing delays. These include naturally occurring disasters like extreme weather conditions.

Project Quality Issues

Even though project managers are always expected to ensure that construction project are of the highest quality, there are some factors that may limit attainment of high quality in their projects. Quality in construction projects affects a wide range of components, from structural support to plumbing. According to Best and Valence (2012), quality in construction can be compromised if project managers or supervisors fail to carry out adequate inspection in the course of the process. The challenge is even higher when workers o laborers taking part in the project do not possess the adequate skills needed. Another issue that is likely to affect quality is acquisition of low quality materials with the objective of saving costs (Olawale & Sun, 2010). Whereas it is advantageous to reduce unnecessary costs of construction, purchasing of sub-standard materials for such projects poses long-term dangers to people who will inhabit the structure or even valuables that may be stored in them.

The impacts of quality issues in construction can be minimized by the project managers by ensuring strict adherence to the use of standard equipment and materials that have been specified for construction. In addition, incompetence can be avoided by ensuring that the workers recruited to take part in the project have the ideal skills, experience and qualifications (McCarthy, 2010). By so doing, project managers will be assured that even with minimal supervision, they are capable of doing a quality job. Inspections required in every step of the construction project should be diligently carried out by supervisors and project managers to ensure that mistakes are avoided at all costs (Muir, 2005). Project managers should convince their clients to provide sufficient funds to purchase quality construction materials. Even though it might drive the construction costs higher, risks that are associated with poor quality construction will be evaded (Harris & McCaffer, 2013). Unlike delays and cost override issues, there are no situations where poor quality is inevitable. Therefore, project managers have to ensure that they strictly adhere to quality materials and practices.

Peripheral Issues/Challenges

These are challenges that affect construction processes indirectly. These are classified into environmental, legal and socio-political issues.

Environmental issues

Since the 1970’s, there has been a reasonable increase in the levels of environmental impacts caused by construction projects (Barrie & Paulson, 1992). This has prompted environment conservation bodies and governments to set regulations that have to be adhered to by constructors. Lack of compliance to these regulations may result into termination of the project, imposition of fines on the firm, and in other cases, criminal prosecutions. To avoid inconvenienced caused by ignorant non-adherence, project managers have to ensure that they are up-to-date about all the permits requires and environmental regulations (Shen et al., 2010; Winch, 2010). Some of the factors that that raise environmental concern in construction project include soil erosion and sedimentation, hazardous waste materials and noise pollution, among others.

Socio-political and legal Issues

These include pressures that emanate from owners of properties that are adjacent to the construction project, community and civic organizations. According to Scott et al. (2011), present-day construction managers are supposed to be accountable to the public through ensuring that the location or design of the structure being constructed does not interfere with other property owners (Muir, 2005). Legal challenges in construction projects are caused by issues like liabilities, avoidance, claims and mitigations, government issued permits, as well as safety and labor laws. The mentioned peripheral challenges can be avoided by ensuring that they are all addressed in the planning phase of the project. For instance, socio-political challenges can be avoided by seeking alternative sites where the mentioned challenges are inexistent (Scott et al., 2011). The legal issues, on the other hand, can be addressed through seeking services of a strong legal team or through simple strict adherence to the construction policies that have been set by the respective governing authorities (Sears et al., 2010).

Risks in Construction Projects

Weeks (2011) posits that the major risks that are associated with construction projects are posed to human resource forces. These include health and safety risks, which may have catastrophic impacts if not promptly and effectively managed. Another risk in construction projects arises from hiring non-skilled or poorly skilled workers. These are referred to as work-force risks (McCarthy, 2010).

Health and Safety Risks

In any construction project, safety and health remains one of the leading concerns of managers and workers involved. Typically, construction projects are quite dangerous, and the possibility of accidents happening is high. According to Rozenfeld et al. (2010), the effect of accidents in construction projects is quite costly in terms of finances, legal settlements and human suffering. However, these costs can be avoided if the standard safety measures for each identified risk are taken. In the construction industry, health and safety risks are classified into chemical and physical hazards. Risks that are posed by chemical hazards are usually from fumes, liquid or powder. In most cased these substances are ingested, inhaled or are absorbed when they get in contact with skins of workers (Fewings, 2013). Whilst the effects of some of these chemicals might be quite mild or even unnoticeable, some chemicals are known to cause serious illnesses. These include bronchitis, silicosis, asbestosis and severe skin allergies (Weeks, 2011). Physical health and safety risks in construction projects include falling objects, trucks that materials and equipment in the construction site, noise pollution, vibrations and extreme weather conditions, among others. Risks of falling objects usually increase with the height of the construction project (Harris & McCaffer, 2013). Whereas these objects are often building materials, in some isolated cases, workers may also fall from elevated heights.

Even with the imminent risks that are posed by chemical hazards in construction projects, they cannot be eliminated in construction projects. Therefore, measures need to be taken reduce their adverse impacts. One of the measures that can help in reducing such risks is by substituting materials with high toxicity levels with those whose toxicities are relatively lower (Weeks, 2011). In the case of physical hazards, equipments that pose less risk can be substituted with those associated with high risks. For instance, pneumatic hammers could be replaced by impact hammers to reduce noise pollution. Another measure that can be taken is by ensuring that workers are supplies with personal protective equipment to counter any possible risk that they might face. Some of these include helmets for protection against falling objects, safety belts for those working on high structures and masks to protect workers from inhaling chemicals (Harris & McCaffer, 2013). Other equipments include safety boots to protect feet and ear plugs to limit impacts of noise-pollution (Rozenfeld et al., 2010).

Workforce Risks

The workforce in construction projects, just like in any other project, is the most valuable resources. This is because the quality with which construction projects are carried out depends on the workers’ levels of skill in planning and execution of the project. However, Muir (2005) argues that construction is one of the industries that are viewed by many as being the least desirable to work in. This is because of the dangers associated with and the fact that it is quite physically exhausting (Muir, 2005). As opposed to other jobs, the construction industry is considered to be dirty. These are some of the factors that are attracting skilled youth to other industries, away from the construction industry (Murray & Dainty, 2013). With such shortages, project managers in construction often end up selecting less qualified individuals to take up such positions. With reference to the United States, most of the construction workers are immigrants who, apart from not being competent, are faced with language and cultural barrier issues (Muir, 2005). One of the major risks that are posed by using a workforce that is not adequately skilled is that without proper intensive supervision, the quality of the structure may be compromised.

Mitigation of this risk depends on how companies in the construction industry will attract more skilled individuals. Some of the ways in which this can be done include setting competitive compensation rates for workers in the industry and utilizing technological advancements to reduce the physical strain that construction projects usually have on workers (Murray & Dainty, 2013). Technological advancements can also be used to make construction jobs more interesting. In cases where inadequately skilled workers are hired to help in implementation of construction projects, it is important to sufficiently invest in training them before allowing them to take part in the project (Liebing, 2011).

Conclusion

Construction projects have been instrumental for a long time and have contributed toward making life easier. However, they are regarded as being among those with the highest levels of risk to workers. Therefore, to ensure that such projects are successfully implemented and completed, it is necessary for project managers to be keen when planning and implementing the process. This will help in identifying the possible risk that may be faced during the project and formulating the most ideal approach to cope with such challenges or risks. This paper has presented an in-depth discussion of some of the key issues, challenges and risks that are associated with such projects. Some of the key issues that have been identified include cost overruns, delays, quality, environmental, legal and socio-political issues. Risks that have been discussed include health and safety risks, as well as the risk posed by hiring unskilled workers. Some of the ways in which these challenges or risks can be mitigated have also been discussed. To emphasize on the risks associated with construction projects, it is recommended that future research should compare and contrast risks that exist in construction projects with those existing other projects.

 

Bibliography

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