When we think of construction, we think of progress. It’s easy to imagine work flowing steadily and a building or structure coming together piece by piece.
But what happens when projects unexpectedly shut down? It’s always a possibility, and it can result in some very negative consequences if risks aren’t properly mitigated.
The Implications of a Shutdown
Construction projects can be shut down for many different reasons, from loss of financing to stop-work orders to labour or supply disruptions. Disasters and unexpected events can also bring a project to an abrupt halt.
It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, the consequences can be severe and long-reaching. The duration of a shutdown varies from days to years, sometimes with no clear end in sight.
Some of the implications are obvious. First, security and fire protection are often necessary, especially when there are potential dangers on site. This may include fencing, tarps, technology, or even personnel.
The costs in terms of finances and time lost can also be significant. In projects where budgets and timelines are tight, even a short shut down can be detrimental.
Finally, there may be consequences for ROW (Right of Way) services and, ultimately, a feasibility study conducted by an engineer. Delays can impact the completion of a project, and in some cases, may halt the project indefinitely.
There are also a few less obvious risks partially completed permanent structures. Structures are designed to resist loads from their occupancy, as well as the effects of nature. However, until they are complete, they’re likely to lack this full resistance.
In the meantime, temporary structures may be used to maintain stability while a permanent structure remains unfinished, or to provide access or protection for workers, adjacent properties, or the public. When a shutdown occurs, this process is interrupted. This could work counter to the assumptions used for planning later steps in the construction process. It could also create unforeseen hazards, especially if the shutdown is extended for weeks or months.
Since they’re only expected to remain in place or unfinished for a short duration, temporary structures and partially completed work are usually held to less stringent design loads and load cases than permanent structures. This may include lowered wind, snow, and earthquake loads. With increased timeframes, the potential for exposure to these risks also increases.
A similar risk exists when we consider the exposure of building materials, which could potentially become damaged if they are time-dependent. Wood construction is an excellent example of this. The frequent exposure of wood to moisture can reduce the design strength and stiffness of the material, while constant exposure can lead to decay.
Other materials are equally vulnerable to the elements. Excavation support in clay soils can fail if they are in service long enough for undrained strength behaviour to develop. If water is allowed to collect in an excavation or on earthwork, the soil will degrade, potentially destabilizing any structures it supports.
Meanwhile, steel structures and equipment are subject to corrosion, and concrete intended for interior use is vulnerable to freeze-thaw damage.
During construction, risk is sometimes necessary. Here are just a few examples when this might be the case:
- Traditional pit underpinning results in portions of a foundation being undermined for up to a few days.
- When installing wood sheeting for excavation support or a soil nail wall, a few feet of soil has to be cut at a vertical slope before it can be supported.
- If an existing structure is to be elevated to replace its foundation or increase its height above ground, it is often vulnerable to falling off its temporary support due to wind.
- Potential instabilities are often present when erecting steel or trusses.
Creating Mitigation Plans for Shutdowns
With all of these potential risks compiled, it’s easy to see why shutdowns are complex and require a lot of forethought and work. If work is not brought to a sufficient level of completion before stopping a project, it can be acutely hazardous. To ensure projects are safe and secure during a shutdown and can be completed afterward, a mitigation plan needs to be put into place to manage and offset the risks.
First, the assumptions originally made in the construction planning process need to be revisited. This may mean looking at the structure’s materials, timelines, or the building processes.
Temporary structures will also need to be reanalyzed to ensure they can provide a longer service life. Finally, any work in progress should be checked and inspected by a professional engineer during the shutdown and after any large events like snowstorms or hailstorms.
Cut Costs by Cutting Out Risk
Shutdowns always cost money. However, the potential for extended costs from dealing with adverse events during or after a shutdown can be just as costly.
Planning for a proper and orderly shutdown can save lives, equipment, and, at the end of the day, money. Mitigate your costs, mitigate your risks, and guarantee your project success even when the unexpected happens.
For more information about shutdown planning or other engineering services, get in touch with a CVL Engineering Inc. professional. We’re always here to offer insight, and we always strive to improve potential outcomes in projects.