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Keeping on top of the paperwork - Guest Column (8/02)

You may have noticed that the ever-increasing demand for documentation on construction projects has resulted in your briefcase weighing more than your toolbox.

You may have noticed that the ever-increasing demand for documentation on construction projects has resulted in your briefcase weighing more than your toolbox. No longer is the contractor required just to show up with the labour, the materials, a good work ethic and a plan to get the job done. Now the contractor is expected to have his or her business license, proof of Workers’ Compensation coverage and business liability insurance, plus a growing number of additional items such as waste-management plans, safety policies, training procedures, and environmental-management plans, to name a few. Consultants, clients and government officials want to see a paper trail documenting training, workplans and certifications.

Part of the reason for this trend is due diligence. Due diligence refers to the process of acting responsibly by examining every aspect of how your business operates in order to anticipate and prevent problems that may arise. In the construction industry, due diligence involves examining practices, products, equipment and plans in such a way as to enhance your company’s financial-management practices, workplace and public safety procedures and environmental impacts. This documentation includes everything from standard permits and work orders to more specialized reports and submittals related to the specifics of particular projects. Essentially, requirements for documentation come from one of the following sources: government bodies, clients/consultants and the contractors themselves.

In particularly sensitive areas, such as those areas related to occupational health and safety, hazardous materials disposal, and waste management, the paperwork required to demonstrate due diligence is essentially required by law. Government departments such as the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of the Environment stipulate in their regulations, various forms and submittals required under specific circumstances. The contractor, by complying with legal requirements and exercising due diligence, must complete the documentation.

Consultants and clients, as a result of their own efforts to pursue due diligence and fulfil legal requirements, may also require that the contractor produce documentation concerning various components of a project. These often go beyond legislated requirements and represent the particular concerns of a client or project. Like government-inspired documentation, often these concerns are related to issues of waste management, the environment, worker and public health safety and efficient management of time, money and resources. This documentation provides the client and the consultants with assurances that work is being done in accordance with the objectives and principles of the project or of the client/consultant themselves. It gives the opportunity for the contractor to describe and the consultant/client to approve details such as: equipment, labour, sequencing, and safety precautions to be implemented.

While all this documentation is intended to ensure proper management of a project or component of the project, ensuring that submittals are complete and satisfactory requires some management on its own. Upon the award of a new contract or even prior to a bid submission, take the time to go through the specification and create a list of all the documentation that is required to be supplied throughout the course of the project. While some projects may require nothing more than a building permit and insurance, others may require more detailed plans and frequent submission. Prepare a series of checklists or matrices organized according to particular characteristics of the project as outlined in the specifications. If you are dealing with a project that has to address the issue of hazardous waste for instance, prepare a matrix identifying the documentation required for that component of the project. Include columns for the type of submission, who it’s to be submitted to, when and what action is required to get it done.

If a submission is required for proof of certification for a hazardous waste disposal facility, call a facility, make arrangements and request a letter stating the details of the arrangement from the service provider along with their necessary certificates of approval. Do the same for waste management, health safety, etc. The checklists should identify the issue and the submittal requirements stating when the submittal is due, who will receive it and what action is required to complete it. Identify a target date and a completion date. On large, multi-faceted projects that require numerous submittals, set aside a short time period each week to go over these checklists and ensure that you are on top of the matters.

This practice will not only help ensure that all submittals and special conditions are effectively met, it will also help in mapping out project timelines and labour requirements. Decide what are the important issues involved in the project. Identify what documentation is required for your own records, the clients or any number of various government bodies. Developing this detailed understanding of the scope of work may also help you to make more informed bids and financial decisions. It is also likely to help the project run smoother for all parties involved.

When preparing submittals themselves that go beyond standard practices or traditional documentation, such as a hazardous materials removal workplan or an erosion-control plan, the key to properly preparing the documentation is understanding what the specifier is looking for in the first place. Typically, the reason behind the request is that some of the parties involved in the project need assurances that the contractor has a full understanding of what has to be done, is capable of doing it and is well prepared to do it for the project in question. The interested party wants to know that the contractor is of a similar mindset and does not represent a liability for the client or consultant or even the general public. The contractor should then address the issues in the submittal, taking a look at criteria identified in the specifications and the information that has to be supplied in addressing them. In the case of a hazardous materials removal workplan, these criteria may include qualifications of those doing the work, equipment and methods being used, coordination of work within the scope of the project and safety precautions being taken.

Even without a particular project on the table, get a head start on what is required by the consultant, the client and various government bodies by taking the time to document various aspects of your company’s business. This involves preparing written copies of your company’s safety policies and standard work practices. Keep a running file of all certification and training received by you and your employees.

While all this additional documentation may sound like a lot of extra work, it will likely save more headaches than it causes. The benefits are numerous. Express written policies concerning safety and standard practices can help to lower insurance premiums, as well as help identify deficiencies that need to be addressed. Having these things on hand will impress the client and save you time and effort when these items are required by the specifications of a particular project.

Article written by Maria Drake and Vince Catalli of by dEsign consultants. by dEsign consultants is a division of DST Consulting Engineers, an engineering and construction company based in northwestern Ontario.