The importance of pre-construction planning
Erecting a building or delivering an infrastructure project can be complicated, often involving procuring large quantities of material, marshalling heavy machinery and coordinating a large workforce.
So many elements need to come together in harmony involving numerous stakeholders, ranging from designers, clients, contractors and suppliers, for the scheme to start and finish on time and be completed within budget.
Planning how and when the work will be carried out and checking in on its progress is crucial. Before a spade goes into the ground, design elements, procurement, timing and more are all finely balanced.
Such activity should get underway at the earliest stage, since pre-construction inspections play an important role in ensuring a project gets off on the right foot.
What does a pre-construction inspection entail?
According to Effective Building & Consultancy (EBC), a pre-construction inspection ‘is carried out as a contractual responsibility performed by the contractors to provide the client or a third party an independent view of the construction works and their progress.’
A typical pre-construction inspection checklist covers things like the suitability of the terrain and whether the design will work with the site being proposed.
EBC says: ‘Depending on the size of the project, the pre-construction inspection may have to be carried out by a team of building inspectors. Design consultants also play a role in periodic inspections.’
While an early assessment is vital to ensure a construction site is fit for purpose, inspections need to be ongoing.
Pre-construction inspections apply to every stage of a project’s delivery. EBC lists more than a dozen areas of the construction process that should come under the scrutiny of an inspection. These include ‘ensuring that all materials and procedures comply with the plan and specifications … detailed inspections of the quality of installations if they comply with standards and specifications … keeping and maintaining inspection checklists and records in a completely accurate and orderly manner … monitoring and documenting materials delivered and used in the construction works … performing semi-final and final inspections upon building completion.’
Similarly, local authorities require inspections to be carried out at various stages in a project’s development. Merton Council, in south London, spells out what it expects from contractors. ‘When you start the building work’, it says, ‘we will discuss the project and remind you about approval conditions and check that your site is as shown, especially drain layout and depths.
We inspect the way you prepare the area underneath the floor before you add concrete … we will inspect the damp-proof course to make sure the materials are suitable and wide enough to prevent water rising from the ground into the property.’
Merton, as with other local councils, also checks elements such as installation of roof joists and timbers, fire precautions, staircases and safety glazing. Only once it is satisfied that a building meets all its criteria will it sign off.
What are the benefits of pre-construction inspections?
A good example of the benefits of – and need for – a pre-construction inspection was the 02 Arena, located on the Greenwich Peninsula, in south east London. The project, originally named the Millennium Dome, was designed to house an exhibition commemorating the passing of the second millennia.
The site had previously been home to a gasworks, tar distillation activities and a benzene plant, and was heavily contaminated.
According to Forest Research, part of the Forestry Commission, inspections of the land ‘found that the level of human risk associated with the residual gases, such as carbon dioxide and benzene, was shown to be acceptably low, although gas control measures were incorporated into the floor of the Millennium Dome as a precaution and in order to carry out ongoing monitoring of gas evolution.’
How has the industry learned from high-profile failings?
According to Fenwick Elliott, a law firm specialising in construction and energy law, events such as the Grenfell fire have highlighted the need for inspections to be rigorous. The company says the frequency and duration of inspections should be tailored to the nature of the work going on at the site from time to time.
‘If the element of the work is important because it is going to be repeated throughout one significant part of the building, then the inspecting professional should ensure that they have seen that element of the work in the early course of construction/assembly so as to form a view as to the contractor’s ability to carry out that particular task’, it adds.
Fenwick Elliott also highlights the need to keep records of what has been seen, how any defects or temporary disconformities have been dealt with, ‘and if there are continuing issues with workmanship how the concerns that should arise as a result of this have been alleviated.’
This makes a lot of sense. Start as you mean to continue and your project should meet the ambitions of all concerned.
Collecting, analysing and sharing information is key
Of course, for pre-construction inspections to be effective, interested parties need to be able to collect, assess and disseminate information. Increasingly, paperless records are being used, and access given to stakeholders through centralised software systems such as Bluebeam.
Project communication is vital throughout all phases of delivery, from design to completion. But many argue the pre-construction phase is critical to a project’s success. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) says it is during this phase that the project team needs to get organised and aligned if their vision is going to come together. It is where the foundation of project communication and process is laid, it says.
‘Without a strong foundation, a construction project can quickly become disorderly, leading to gaps in communication, holes in the process and potential schedule delays’, LISC adds.