So far, and as far as you know, all is running super smoothly. Your contractor phones to tell you that an inspector just visited and has handed him a notice. This is not the building inspector - your plans were approved and your builder keeps a copy on site. It is a health and safety officer. Your contractor is shocked. What is this new regulation?
Health and safety regulations have been around for years but amended for construction a couple of years ago. Under the general specifications in your drawings, your architectural professional would have given a brief note regarding health and safety regulations as per the Occupational Health and Safety ACT or OHS. This involves registration of all workers with the labour department, reports listing safety measures by owner and contractor, hard hats, site shoes, goggles, regulatory type scaffolding and the list goes on. A good option is to appoint a health and safety professional to implement all the necessary requirements on your behalf.
What are the risks should you not follow OHS regulations. One is law enforcement by an official- leading to delays. The other is if serious injuries are sustained on site and your public liability insurance asks for proof you followed OHS regulation. In a later blog I will list what documents you need in place so you are covered by your various insurances.
How did a local authority know about you building and why are you being targeted anyway? How is your relationship with your neighbour? Did you kindly inform them of the building works and apologise upfront for the noise, mess and dust to follow? It isn’t often that an official would visit a site unless a complaint is received. You are following regulation if, over and above the approved plans and OHS requirements, you have: a permit for material storage on your pavement, rubbish is stored in skips and construction noise, as per regulation, is limited to between 6h00 and 18h00 on weekdays and 6h00 and 17h00 on Saturdays – no noise on Sundays and public holidays.
It is a lovely Friday afternoon, your architect has just told you that your engineer has approved the reinforcing lying in your foundation. Your contractor books the ready mix truck for Monday. Sunday afternoon arrives together with the eagerly awaited rain. Your site is a mud bath. This wasn’t your typical afternoon shower, it is a 2 week monsoon! Who pays for the delay? An ‘’Act of God’’ or ‘’Force Majeure’’ is an event no one could have avoided. Road closures, national strikes etc. are also out of the parties control. In this case, your contractor is entitled to a revision of the date for completion, and with it, the costs to fix any damages to site and other losses incurred that the client, as opposed to the contractor, should reasonably pay for. Now what about the delay when the foreman was off sick and the other when the steel subcontractor didn’t pitch to lay the reinforcing for engineer to check Tuesday. These are delays the contractor could have reasonably avoided by having a back-up. The contractor’s subcontractors are the contractor’s responsibility. Should there be penalties provided in your agreement, you may claim these on late handover due to such delays. Give notice of these early on to avoid later disagreements when claims are due. Should the delay persist, notice must be given to the contractor to continue works as per time frame provided in agreement - hopefully you have a good agreement in place. Once time lapses you may appoint someone else to complete that part of the job at the contractors cost. I will deal with unlawful suspension of works and termination at a later stage. When I say you may give notice or claim etc. I refer to your principle agent, usually your architect, whom you have appointed to administer the contract. The rain has stopped, the builders return to site and finish the brickwork. Standing in your dressing room you decide your shoe collection needs its own space. You instruct your architect to amend the drawings. Your contractor is immediately instructed not to order roof yet. Any building changes, late issue of instruction, delayed payment or other delays caused by client or their agent is to the client’s full cost. While you wait for that revised drawing, take another look at all areas that may need changing right away. You will find the contractors claim for additional costs, management fees and profit on top of all that carries a high daily price.
You are finally ready to build your dream nest. Flipping through hundreds of pintrest images of vintage brick and raw concrete, your wildest expectations are met by your architect's renderings. You are on a high. Just a little delay at the council and your plans are approved. Meanwhile, your builder, sharing your enthusiasm, has already dug some trenches and the engineer is on his way to test the soil. And now? Is this your sudden descent to the land of building issues?
Let's hope your ground is firm - standard foundations would then suffice. If not, your engineer will probably specify over 2m deep trenches refilled with reconstituted soil before foundations are cast.
This is soil mixed with cement compacted back into ground in thin strips - like some layered chocolate cake. You may even need a raft foundation- a structural grid whereupon the house is built, kind of floating on the ground.
Where do you stand economically? In your bill of quantities, foundations are a provisional item, subject to final specification by your engineer. Unlike brickwork, windows, ceilings, doors etc. these items would not have been detailed by your architect. Contractors, more than often, only provide for standard foundations. Other provisional items include tiles, kitchen, door handles etc. where cost is subject to final selection.
If you are working on a tight budget, appoint your structural engineer to test the soil and specify foundations prior to going out to tender. Perhaps ask for details on the lesser surprising structures too like suspended slabs, steelwork , beams and columns. Meet your architect at the building showrooms to get advice and idea of costs. The more detail you provide your builder with, the closer the bill will be to the truth.
After years of contemplation to begin my construction blog, it has been public desperation rather than inspiration that has bulldozed me to begin writing.
21 years as a professional architect and 6 years an arbitrator, I have had to investigate trickier contract matters in last 2 years than ever before. Whether this is due to our economy or the global trend to sue, the fact is, building disputes seem to be on the rise.
My best advice on probably the biggest project you will ever fund is a fail safe set of contract documents. Drawings and specifications by registered professionals, a detailed bill of quantities and a tight building contract must be in place before you send out tenders to your carefully picked builders to quote from.
I will be discussing typical issues dealt with in my own projects and those brought to me for advice by others.
Please note: My advice is given without prejudice and does not constitute legal advice or provide solution to any specific projects.