In the wake of Sydney’s Opal Tower fiasco, the New South Wales state government’s approach is geared toward improving the construction industry and alleviating public concerns by cracking down on private building certifiers. For all in the industry, this can be likened to taking the paintbrush off a child and leaving them with the open paint tin.
Let’s be honest: What is the purpose of building certifiers? They check that the proposed building design meets all the regulations, standards, and building codes for the proposed “classification” of the building. Once the building is complete, all they are checking to ensure the building, in its “finished” form, meets the classification requirements. The certifier will also compile every consultant, subcontractor, and builder alike, that all the appropriate evidence (aka paperwork) stating they have completed their job correctly.
At what point has the private building certifier walked onsite? Unless you are doing a partial handover, they will only come to the site at the end. How is this relevant to the Opal tower in Sydney?
Building certifiers and Opal tower
First, we need to ask: was the building certifier there when the concrete was being poured? Was the certifier there when the precast panels were being installed? It is highly, highly unlikely.
How is this the certifiers problem? Frankly, its not. Who’s responsibility is it? It’s ours; we have all done it: didn’t blow/clean the formwork deck off properly, didn’t remove the over-spilled concrete from the top of that column. And before everyone jumps up and down, I am not saying we are doing a bad job. The Opal Tower is one major incident that has emerged after the handover in how many buildings that we all have collectively built? More than anything, this is a timely reminder.
We all have tight timelines, and hundreds of meters of concrete booked weeks in advance, all while managing teams of contractors to meet these fictitious dates. We have become masters of balancing risk, timing, and ever-pressing constraints of construction. Of course, we let things slide; how else do you build a tower in under 12 months?
Opal tower’s timely reminder
It’s easy for us to get complacent when making decisions of what we will let slide and what we won’t. Just like the guys on the ground at Opal tower would be feeling the weight of their decisions made throughout the project, we, too, have to live with our decisions.
Maybe we have been lucky, maybe not. And with all the quality and consultant inspections that we have to complete on a daily basis, not to mention the continual re-checking (I know we all love re-checking everyone’s work), it’s the detail that will always cause sleepless nights.
As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” By having the person (private building certifier) that has a broad brush stroke being responsible for painting between the lines will only cause a mess. After all this has blown over, as we are the people responsible for building our buildings, we will have missed the direct government scrutiny, but we will feel the added pressure with our ever-shrinking project constraints.
In this episode, I am going to talk about why I love construction site management and site supervising. Over the years I have had many roles, a carpenter, manager, leading hand and a laborer. I get the biggest kick out of construction site management. I thoroughly enjoy working with all the guys on a project, working with hundreds to well over and well over thousands of people.
Working with different trades
It is great getting to work with all the different trades and getting to experience something new. There is never a day that goes by where you don’t learn something new. Also being able to work with the architects, engineers, and designers and finding out how came up with their designs. Problem-solving with the design teams is great as well. The last thing that I will touch on in this episode is the cool projects that we get to build.
Working with the different tradesmen on a project can be like working with a bunch of friends. Over time you get to make new friends. As you move from project to project, you catch up with guys you haven’t seen in years. Sometimes it is like no time has passed. Catching up on what projects they have worked on, what they have been up too, how their families are. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people, which is one of the things that I enjoy about construction site management.
Working with the guys, I get to experience the pride they have in their work. Especially when a problem arises, everyone has their thoughts on how to solve the problem. How we can move forward and get things back on track. Everyone gets in and gets the work done.
I don’t always work with tradesmen, but mostly all the guys that you do work with are genuine people. They are doing the best they can with what they have. The best part about working with them is getting the opportunity to learn something new.
Every trade has some other tip or trick for solving a problem or making something work. Even just showing you new tools that they have collected which make their job easier. Learning makes going to work enjoyable. You get to go to work and spend the time learning something new. Not just learning for your personal benefit, but what you learned today will come into use on a different project. This learning always gives further insight into various ways to view problems.
Working with design teams
Not only do you get to work with the trades on site, but you also get to work with the architects, designers, and engineers. The beauty of this, they have a vision of what it is they want to build, but also how they are going to get there. The practicality of building, not all of the architects and engineers have trade backgrounds or experience. As a site manager, you become invaluable to them. Your experience to figure out how it is you are going to build the intended building. Sometimes the design has to change slightly to complete the building. You have to get involved with the design team to produce the result.
Architects and engineers have spent many years learning their trade and skills. Being an architect, being creative and being able to design a building inside of a client’s briefs. Being able to figure out what is intended is something that I don’t have the patients. I am clear that it would drive me mad sitting down and trying to draw this stuff. Trying to figure out how to make the bathroom fit with the kitchen, and the bedrooms and lounge rooms, while meeting all the compliance requirements. Certainly in an apartment building. Even houses have the similar constraints and minimum requirements. I have a lot of respect for the design guys. Some designers aren’t so great to work with, very fixed on what it is that they want. At the same time, they have spent a lot of time and effort to get to develop the design and I am quite ok with that.
It makes my job that much harder, it’s a challenge that isn’t insurmountable. It just gives another level of excitement to what it is to be a site supervisor.
Working with engineers is good. It is an opportunity to learn the workings of the structure of the building. Learning which are the key components. Even the simple things like the reinforcing in the concrete and how all that works. There have been so many progressions over the years that each high rise has a new product, a new method of building to be able to make the building work. The best part is you might have a problem, the contractors and yourself may have missed some structural element or component. For example, one project I managed, we got the centers of the reinforcing on the top layer wrong. Instead of being told to pull all the reinforcing up and redo it, the engineer worked with us to solve the problem.
Being able to have a good working relationship with engineers and architects is a real privilege. Having that relationship is a way to learn so much more than-than focusing on one trade. You get to be a part of the process; it’s an opportunity I am so grateful to have been given.
Building cool buildings
The last thing I wanted to mention was the cool stuff you get to build. I was very fortunate to work on a project at Australian Catholic University, as the guys on the site referred to as ‘Building T.’ That building was built by Tomkins Commercial and Industrial Buildersand went on to win National Awards. On ‘Building T,’ I was the finishing foreman. There are four skylight tubes in the center of the building; the architect showed what the intent of these skylights. Between the glazing contractors, other site managers, and myself, we were able to work out how we were going to build them.
It wasn’t exactly a straightforward process, there was four of them, they had to be identical and line up. It was a bit of fun and games to make them work. I think we did a pretty good job. The architect liked what we had come up with and built. Overall the whole project turned out to be an amazing project, and I am so glad I got to be a part of the team.
Completing a project
Just getting to build buildings is the ultimate joy. Standing back, looking at what you have achieved in that last six, twelve months or however long the building took to complete. Knowing that you had a role in that building and all your efforts have paid off to contribute to the delivery of the building.
When you get to the end of a project, it can be comical. All the problems, all the struggles you had on the way you seem to forget. You stand back and ask yourself why was it so hard? I haven’t done a project where it was an easy project. I have always got to the end and looked back, and said to myself, I don’t know why it was difficult. At the time it was, by the end, you have forgotten all the hard yards. It’s just a joy to be able to stand there and say I built that. Looking at all the work the guys have done, you know all the stories in the building. A lot of stories that most people will never know, lots of dramas, lots of funny stories, lots of crazy weekends where people have come to work when they shouldn’t have.
Being about of the construction site management team is a good job that I enjoy.