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Construction Safety

Site Assessments: Conducting a Site Assessment (Part 3)

Ron Prichard | January 1, 2002

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In this, the third of a four-part series, Ron Prichard discusses how to tackle the task of gaining information about a construction site by actually going on-site and determining what those working on-site think of the project and its progress.

In previous articles, we addressed the "infostructure" of the site assessment model and the basic elements of conducting site assessments. This installment explains how to tackle the task of gaining information around the work taking place in the field, and how to put it into useful form.

The primary gauge for rapid on-site assessment is to monitor the project field key element. This encompasses four associated, essential functions:

  1. How people talk about the project
  2. What people say about others on the project
  3. How they talk about progress
  4. How the job actually looks once you go out on-site

Keep in mind that this data is not collected sequentially. While complete data collection on the first three categories is not necessary before the project begins, enough information must be acquired on the last category to help steer the tour.

How are these opinions acquired? Regarding the first three classifications, answers are gained as part of the dialogue during the site tour. It's important to seek out views that either verify your initial opinions or refine them by confirming or disqualifying them. All questions need not be answered every time. By developing a base set of information on certain key questions, subsequent visits will help you gauge which elements have changed, in what direction, and why. These changes provide clues as to the progress and direction of the project, and generate leads for inquiry.

This article examines each of these four essential functions in more detail.

How People Talk about the Job

Here, you are seeking information in four areas:

  • What do they think about the job in general?
  • What do they think about the project documents?
  • What are the specific issues attracting most of their attention?
  • How do they view the problem-resolution process on the project?

Regarding the project in general, you want to get an overall impression of the project trajectory—where is the job headed in relationship to the stated goal(s). People engaged in a project are able to detect rather quickly, and early in the process, whether a project is going to be successful or not. Most want to link themselves to a project's success, while distancing themselves from any failure. So, first try to discern how those on a project identify with the project.

This can be accomplished by gauging how the overall project is viewed. Ask about their general impressions regarding the concept and scope of the project (what is being built), the resources and approach used (organization and staffing, contracting and delivery strategy), and the sense of direction. Next, find out what is thought about the owner and the owner's staff and advisors assigned to the project (such as architects, engineers, inspectors, and other third parties acting as agents for the owner). Here you are seeking impressions of the competency, adequacy of advice, and level of support provided. This is also where you gauge the project management style of the owner. Is it a collaborative process or a strict hierarchy (just do what you are told or required to do). The final line of inquiry is to get their assessment of the quality of the project team as an aggregate.

What Is Said about Others on the Project

This is a subtle area of inquiry. It is where you gauge attitudes about the other parties involved in the construction process. This involves the examination of two areas: what the project team thinks of its own management and members of its organization assigned to the project and what is thought about the other contractors, subcontractors, and labor force on-site.

How They Talk about Progress

At this point your goal is to find out what people on the project think about how the project is progressing, using their own words. This is where you give them the opportunity to open up in an area where they seldom find anyone else who cares to listen to their opinions. Focus on work activities and try to get a sense of the sorts of problems being encountered, the successes and difficulties, how they and other team members are resolving issues, and what unexpected events have emerged.

In this area, you are also gauging the general willingness to share information. Evasiveness or reluctance to discuss the project progress is a sure sign of trouble. It could indicate that the people on the project are either very unsettled about events or are attempting to conceal issues from you

How the Job Looks On-Site

This is a crucial area of assessment and will involve the major focus of energy. Since a project depends on actual physical work and accomplishment to progress, you need to determine how well things are actually going on-site. Also be concerned for how management is functioning, as this aspect is critical to directing and monitoring the work. This aspect of the evaluation begins from the moment you arrive on-site and encompasses ascertaining all the following elements:

  • The definition of the project site itself, with identification, separation and security, access points (as discernable points of entry)
  • The signs and other directional indicators (emergency and informational, to guide people to the appropriate places on the project site)
  • The clarity of traffic patterns; the parking areas for craft and management (condition and upkeep, amount, trash, organization, adequacy, proximity to work, entry and exit points)
  • The access points for deliveries, visitors, and emergency personnel; organization, layout, order and tidiness of the trailer city, storage areas, and lay-down yards
  • The proximity of the key staging areas to other areas of the project
  • The location of management office trailer to other staging areas

This information can be gathered through observation. It is typical to note that if there is a significant separation between the management locales and the craft parking areas, the craft parking lots will suffer (as will the morale of the workers). Also, if the condition of the parking lots deteriorates, it is an indicator that management doesn't really care about the people performing the work since, after all, they haven't bothered to check on things. Taken a step further, why then should workers care? The craft personnel understand intuitively that the things that count get checked.

The pattern noted in this quick site assessment should be replicated in other areas of the project. The staging of the office trailers—commonly referred to as "Trailer City"—should provide an indication of how things are going on-site. As you approach the trailers, look for the same elements you did upon arrival on-site. Once inside the main office trailer, again look for these elements.

Things such as order and organization, layout, cleanliness, and the set-up will reflect the personality of the project manager (and the approach used in handling the project itself). What is tolerated in the main trailer will be reflected out in the actual construction work areas. If there are discrepancies in these patterns, other forces are at work that need to be defined and explained.

The full four-part series on site assessments includes:

An Informal Process of Questioning (Part 1)

Initial Assessments (Part 2)

Conducting a Site Assessment (Part 3)

Some Final Thoughts on Completing Site Assessments (Part 4)

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