Managing a Construction Contract during Covid? What You Need to Be Doing Right Now
Administering live construction projects can be a difficult job at the best of times, so the current climate is hardly likely to be making things more comfortable for anyone in the industry.
Disruptions to working, uncertainty among the workforce, the threat of suspension or termination, as well as the 'usual' day-to-day stressors are no doubt making your To Do list huge.
But, regardless of whether your project has been temporarily shut down or is continuing to work, there are a few actions I would consider taking right now. Not only for the benefit of you and your team, but also to make sure things from a contract administration perspective are in good shape when things eventually recover.
If work has been Suspended or is About to Suspend
Record the current progress of work. Try to agree on this with "the other side" (client/contractor/supplier/manufacturer). If you can't reach an agreement, take (and itemise) photos and videos, and issue them, along with any other pertinent details, of where your records demonstrate progress to be today.
Take a full inventory of materials both on and off-site. Again, agree on the findings with your client or contractor ASAP (take the inventory together if possible). Where possible, arrange storage of materials in a weather-tight location away from the effects of moisture and extreme temperatures. If you're paying extra for this, keep the receipts. Remember to keep the other side abreast of what you're doing and why you're doing it.
Payments. Check what the payment and application provisions in your contract say in case of suspension or termination of works.
Speak to your insurers. Find out what extra steps (if any) you need to take to keep your plant and materials covered.
If Your Site is Still Open - consider the above, plus:
Check your contract. Keep an eye on provisions for claiming extensions of time. Key here are provisions for force majeure events or variations to your planned methods of working.
Notify your clients if your progress is, or is likely to be, affected by social-distancing measures, sickness, reduced staffing or labour levels, revised travel arrangements, etc. Do this at the earliest possible opportunity.
And while we're talking about notifications: you may want to write to your client/contractor(s) and note that longer response times may be required to respond to correspondence - longer in fact than the contractual time-bars. Try to be specific (and reasonable) about the time you may need, whilst doing. what you can to meet contractually specified time frames.
Keep Records proving the occurrence and impact of these issues. These can include anything from government mandates, sickness statistics, photos or videos of progress on-site, original and revised method statements, etc. It's imperative that your site management team is on board with this and knows why they're doing it.
Communicate. Check-in with your staff, as well as management reps from your client and downstream supply chain - do it daily. Explain what new developments have occurred overnight and what actions need to be taken as a result. This is a great way to disseminate information and avoid confusion on site. Posting hardcopies of bulletins on site notice boards can also be helpful, so everyone is - quite literally - reading from the same page.
Above all else
The above is not exhaustive, definitive, nor necessarily applicable to your or your project's circumstances. It's a set of my own thoughts and opinions. So, in that vein, see item 2.
GET ADVICE from your Quantity Surveyors and legal team - this is where they specialise! And remember to keep an eye on publications from the government (like this one) and any relevant professional bodies. For instance, although aimed primarily at Surveyors, the advice provided by the RICS (here) is still a useful reference point for many construction professionals and SME's.
Don't forget to communicate. It's simple but often overlooked in times of crisis. Good communication keeps relationships healthy in times of high stress; meaning reduced chances of disputes further along the road.