Damage Control: 5 Ways to Manage Construction Mistakes

reduce construction mistakes

And How to Avoid Construction Errors and Mistakes Altogether

When it comes to large construction projects, the last thing a contractor wants to deal with is a costly mistake that will cause them to absorb the repair costs into their budgets. However, this problem was exactly what one major contractor recently faced during the D.C. Silver Line Metrorail project leading to the Dulles International Airport. About 1,750 concrete panels used for the metro stations walls ended up having the wrong concrete mix. Instead of the installed panels lasting for 100 years, water would be able to penetrate the concrete to deteriorate the materials at a faster rate. The panels will have to be coated with a protective substance to increase the durability of the concrete.

Construction mistakes happen, but they can get costly–and fast. In the D.C. Metro Line incident, the contractor will end up absorbing the expenses, as well as any additional issues if the protective substance does not work. While mistakes can arise at any time, it’s not always easy to fix the problems when they occur in the construction industry. One small error has the potential to rapidly deteriorate other elements of a project. Sometimes, the project won't pass inspection, or it will need to be torn down due to safety and health concerns. Additionally, construction blunders can have a domino effect that will impact every part of the project from electrical, plumbing, and finishing elements.

Below, we’ll discuss how to have a plan of action when errors do happen. Furthermore, we’ll dive into the tools and processes you need in order to avoid construction mistakes entirely.

5 Best Practices for Handling Construction Mistakes

Adopting a plan of action when a construction mistake appears will allow you to address the issue quickly to lower the amount of damage, prevent extensive rework and ensure that the rest of the construction project is finished on time. Here are five of the best practices to help you get the project back on track.

1: Take Ownership

You or your team members messed up. While it can be natural to want to avoid blame and embarrassment, this is only counterproductive to moving forward. Playing the blame game at the worksite as each contractor and trade contractor points the finger at someone else only wastes precious time in coming up with a suitable solution. If it’s your or your team’s problem, be professional and admit to it as soon as possible so that the construction team can move on to find a quick resolution.

Owning up to mistakes is also a critical component of building trust on the jobsite. Trust is essential for consistent communication and collaboration, as a recent study shows.

For some construction mistakes, there may be multiple contractors, workers and material providers who are at fault. Figure out, as swiftly as possible, who is contractually obligated to pay for the issue and then ensure that you make the appropriate payments on time if you are the guilty party.

2: Thoroughly Document Mistakes

Figuring out what caused the error is just as critical as fixing it. Getting to the root of the issue is an essential first step in resolution. For instance, if the problem happened because of one of your workers, you could address the worker's performance to avoid a similar situation in the future. Yet if the problem deals with materials that were used, you want to immediately stop the rest of the workers from using the same poor quality materials for the rest of the construction project.

Detail what the issue was, what materials may have been involved, which workers made a mistake and how they made it. Providing complete descriptions of the misstep can prevent it from materializing again with another project. If the mistake was with ordering materials, you could find another supplier who offers better quality products and have the materials shipped out immediately to prevent further downtime issues.

If possible, make sure to document the mistake visually with photos. While you can write an extremely detailed description of the omission, only photos can capture it to its full extent. If you’re using a field collaboration software, photos can be directly embedded into sheets. Therefore, the entire team can read about, as well as view the mistakes that occurred and adapt accordingly.

3: Communicate With the Entire Project Team

Mistakes in construction should never be kept under wraps. The full project team needs to be alerted to when the issue occurred and the magnitude of its potential to impact other aspects of the project.

If you fail to let other team members understand the mistake, they may not be able to minimize damage as quickly or effectively as possible. Communicate not only with your team but with other project stakeholders and subcontractors. Make sure everyone understands the error and can move on with their work with minimum interruptions.

4: Create the Appropriate Repair Schedule

Not every construction mistake can be addressed immediately. Especially given the competitive, skilled labor market, you may not have enough workers at your immediate disposal to repair the issue. You may also have to coordinate with different contractors, plumbers, and electricians who will be needed to resolve the issue. Meet with project teams to coordinate repair efforts and create an appropriate schedule where the workers will be available to address the issue. Ensure you keep key stakeholders accountable for fixing the issue on time. Then, document the type of actions that will be performed, so everyone is on the same page and to prevent problems that could impact other aspects of the construction project.

Finally, take a look at the overall construction schedule. If the mistake in construction was significant enough, the larger construction schedule might have to be adjusted. While this is never an ideal situation to push project deadlines back, rescheduling promptly will help reset project goals that your team can actually make. Make sure you coordinate with relevant parties to set a new schedule, and once again, communicate it immediately with teams.

5: Perform Project Risk Assessment

After repairs have been made, the issue doesn't entirely end right there. You should take the time to evaluate all the steps that were used to manage the misstep. While this doesn't seem like an important step in the process, project risk assessment helps by allowing you to ensure that every necessary step was taken to remedy the situation in the best possible manner. You also can provide recommendations on how to change your best practices to make them more efficient in the future if similar mistakes arise.

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Best Practices to Prevent Future Mistakes

What’s even better than having a proper course of action when construction mistakes occur? Not having them develop to begin with.

After creating best practice policies to address construction blunders, if and when they crop up, you should also develop policies to avoid future mistakes that could impact projects. Here are a few of the best practices you can adopt to prevent mistakes from occurring in the first place.

Adopt Automation

Human error happens naturally. Just statistically the more people involved in a project, the higher chance mistakes will happen. Reducing these errors can be accomplished by automating certain tasks such as data entry and redundant processes. By reducing data entry mistakes, such as adopting automation tools that automate tasks like submittal log generation, more accurate information can be transmitted to all teams and workers.

In addition to adopting automation in administrative and computing tasks, you can also adopt more automation in the actual construction work by using prefabrication. Offsite construction allows you to use prefabricated building materials pre-built to specifications that can be placed into the rest of the construction project to cut down on time, costs and human errors. While most projects cannot completely rely on prefabrication, it can certainly help to move some of the more standardized aspects of a structure offsite.

Use Enhanced Communication Tools

When there are gaps in the communication chain, workers can become misdirected on the tasks that they need to accomplish and are more likely to make mistakes. Moreover, if workers fail to hear about mistakes that have already happened, they could create an even bigger mess than to begin with. Therefore, it’s critical to use technology to improve communication between the office and field. Field collaboration software, such as Autodesk Build, allows teams to keep in contact with changes and updates to the workflow in real time through the use of mobile devices. These tools can also improve design coordination at the front end of a project, so there are fewer change orders throughout the course of construction.

Due Diligence with Construction Quality

To prevent mistakes in construction, teams need to do their due diligence to focus on the quality of the product that they provide. Standardization is one method to achieve greater quality control implemented throughout all stages of construction. From construction templates, standard workflows, and systemized communications with teams, the right digital tools can set your project up with uniformity and success. With everyone following the established construction quality standards, all teams will stay up-to-date with construction building codes and other specifications so each stage of the project will pass inspections.

Construction Mistakes Happen; Don’t Let Them Destroy Your Project

Construction mistakes can be costly, dangerous and impact future project bids. Setting up a protocol for all workers and teams to follow to address present errors, and developing policies to address future mistakes can lower project risks. Then, you’ll be fully ready to handle any obstacle and set your project up to run smoothly from start to finish.

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.