Looking At The Challenges Of The Civil Engineers Construction Essay

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From the pyramids of Egypt to the international space station, civil engineers have always faced the challenges of the future - advancing civilization and building our quality of life.

Today, the world is undergoing vast changes -- the technological revolution, population growth, environmental concerns, and more. All create unique challenges for civil engineers of every specialty.

The next decades will be the most creative, demanding, and rewarding of times for civil engineers, and now is the best time to find the right career for you. Civil engineers are in the forefront of technology. They are the leading users of sophisticated high-tech products - applying the very latest concepts in computer-aided design (CAD) during design, construction, project scheduling, and cost control.

Civil engineering is about community service, development, and improvement -- the planning, design, construction, and operation of facilities essential to modern life, ranging from transit systems to offshore structures to space satellites. Civil engineers are problem solvers, meeting the challenges of pollution, traffic congestion, drinking water and energy needs, urban redevelopment, and community planning.

Our future as a nation will be closely tied to space, energy, the environment, and our ability to interact with and compete in the global economy.

Civil engineering is grouped into seven major divisions of engineering: structural; environmental; geotechnical; water resources; transportation; construction; and urban planning.

In practice, these are not always hard and fixed categories, but they offer a helpful way to review a very diverse and dynamic field.

2. Project Management for Construction

The management of construction projects requires knowledge of modern management as well as an understanding of the design and construction process. Construction projects have a specific set of objectives and constraints such as a required time frame for completion. While the relevant technology, institutional arrangements or processes will differ, the management of such projects has much in common with the management of similar types of projects in other specialty or technology domains such as aerospace, pharmaceutical and energy developments.

Generally, project management is distinguished from the general management of corporations by the mission-oriented nature of a project. A project organization will generally be terminated when the mission is accomplished.

According to the Project Management Institute, the discipline of project management can be defined as follows: [1]

Project management is the art of directing and coordinating human and material resources throughout the life of a project by using modern management techniques to achieve predetermined objectives of scope, cost, time, quality and participation satisfaction.

By contrast, the general management of business and industrial corporations assumes a broader outlook with greater continuity of operations. Nevertheless, there are sufficient similarities as well as differences between the two so that modern management techniques developed for general management may be adapted for project management.

The basic ingredients for a project management framework [2] may be represented schematically in Figure 2-1. A working knowledge of general management and familiarity with the special knowledge domain related to the project are indispensable. Supporting disciplines such as computer science and decision science may also play an important role. In fact, modern management practices and various special knowledge domains have absorbed various techniques or tools which were once identified only with the supporting disciplines.

[1] R. M. Wideman, "The PMBOK Report -- PMI Body of Knowledge Standard," Project Management Journal, Vol. 17, No. 3, August l986, pp. l5-24. 

Similarly, many operations research techniques such as linear programming and network analysis are now widely used in many knowledge or application domains. Hence, the representation in Figure 2-1 reflects only the sources from which the project management framework evolves.

Figure 2-1:  Basic Ingredients in Project Management

Specifically, project management in construction encompasses a set of objectives which may be accomplished by implementing a series of operations subject to resource constraints. There are potential conflicts between the stated objectives with regard to scope, cost, time and quality, and the constraints imposed on human material and financial resources. These conflicts should be resolved at the onset of a project by making the necessary tradeoffs or creating new alternatives.

[2] L. C. Stuckenbruck, "Project Management Framework," Project Management Journal, Vol. 17, No. 3, August 1986, pp. 25-30.

Subsequently, the functions of project management for construction generally include the following:

Specification of project objectives and plans including delineation of scope, budgeting, scheduling, setting performance requirements, and selecting project participants.

Maximization of efficient resource utilization through procurement of labor, materials and equipment according to the prescribed schedule and plan.

Implementation of various operations through proper coordination and control of planning, design, estimating, contracting and construction in the entire process.

Development of effective communications and mechanisms for resolving conflicts among the various participants.

The Project Management Institute focuses on nine distinct areas requiring project manager knowledge and attention:

Project integration management to ensure that the various project elements are effectively coordinated.

Project scope management to ensure that all the work required (and only the required work) is included.

Project time management to provide an effective project schedule.

Project cost management to identify needed resources and maintain budget control.

Project quality management to ensure functional requirements are met.

Project human resource management to development and effectively employ project personnel.

Project communications management to ensure effective internal and external communications.

Project risk management to analyze and mitigate potential risks.

Project procurement management to obtain necessary resources from external sources.

These nine areas form the basis of the Project Management Institute's certification program for project managers in any industry. 

3. Quality Control and Safety During Construction

Quality control and safety represent increasingly important concerns for project managers. Defects or failures in constructed facilities can result in very large costs. Even with minor defects, re-construction may be required and facility operations impaired, Increased costs and delays are the result. In the worst case, failures may cause personal injuries or fatalities.

Accidents during the construction process can similarly result in personal injuries and large costs. Indirect costs of insurance, inspection and regulation are increasing rapidly due to these increased direct costs.

Good project managers try to ensure that the job is done right the first time and that no major accidents occur on the project.

As with cost control, the most important decisions regarding the quality of a completed facility are made during the design and planning stages rather than during construction. It is during these preliminary stages that component configurations, material specifications and functional performance are decided.

Quality control during construction consists largely of insuring conformance to these original design and planning decisions.

With the attention to conformance as the measure of quality during the construction process, the specification of quality requirements in the design and contract documentation becomes extremely important.

Quality requirements should be clear and verifiable, so that all parties in the project can understand the requirements for conformance.

Safety during the construction project is also influenced in large part by decisions made during the planning and design process. Some designs or construction plans are inherently difficult and dangerous to implement, whereas other, comparable plans may considerably reduce the possibility of accidents. Beyond these design decisions, safety largely depends upon education, vigilance and cooperation during the construction process. Workers should be constantly alert to the possibilities of accidents and avoid taken unnecessary risks.

3.2 Organizing for Quality and Safety

A variety of different organizations are possible for quality and safety control during construction. One common model is to have a group responsible for quality assurance and another group primarily responsible for safety within an organization. In large organizations, departments dedicated to quality assurance and to safety might assign specific individuals to assume responsibility for these functions on particular projects.

For smaller projects, the project manager or an assistant might assume these and other responsibilities. In either case, insuring safe and quality construction is a concern of the project manager in overall charge of the project in addition to the concerns of personnel, cost, time and other management issues.

Inspectors and quality assurance personnel will be involved in a project to represent a variety of different organizations. Each of the parties directly concerned with the project may have their own quality and safety inspectors, including the owner, the engineer/architect, and the various constructor firms. These inspectors may be contractors from specialized quality assurance organizations.

In addition to on-site inspections, samples of materials will commonly be tested by specialized laboratories to insure compliance.

Inspectors to insure compliance with regulatory requirements will also be involved. Common examples are inspectors for the local government's building department, for environmental agencies, and for occupational health and safety agencies.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) routinely conducts site visits of work places in conjunction with approved state inspection agencies. OSHA inspectors are required by law to issue citations for all standard violations observed.

Safety standards prescribe a variety of mechanical safeguards and procedures; for example, ladder safety is covered by over 140 regulations.

In cases of extreme non-compliance with standards, OSHA inspectors can stop work on a project. However, only a small fraction of construction sites are visited by OSHA inspectors and most construction site accidents are not caused by violations of existing standards.

As a result, safety is largely the responsibility of the managers on site rather than that of public inspectors.

While the multitude of participants involved in the construction process require the services of inspectors, it cannot be emphasized too strongly that inspectors are only a formal check on quality control.

Quality control should be a primary objective for all the members of a project team. Managers should take responsibility for maintaining and improving quality control. Employee participation in quality control should be sought and rewarded, including the introduction of new ideas.

Most important of all, quality improvement can serve as a catalyst for improved productivity. By suggesting new work methods, by avoiding rework, and by avoiding long term problems, good quality control can pay for itself.

Owners should promote good quality control and seek out contractors who maintain such standards.

In addition to the various organizational bodies involved in quality control, issues of quality control arise in virtually all the functional areas of construction activities. For example, insuring accurate and useful information is an important part of maintaining quality performance.

Other aspects of quality control include document control (including changes during the construction process), procurement, field inspection and testing, and final checkout of the facility.

3.3 Work and Material Specifications

Specifications of work quality are an important feature of facility designs. Specifications of required quality and components represent part of the necessary documentation to describe a facility.

Typically, this documentation includes any special provisions of the facility design as well as references to generally accepted specifications to be used during construction.

General specifications of work quality are available in numerous fields and are issued in publications of organizations such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), or the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI).

Distinct specifications are formalized for particular types of construction activities, such as welding standards issued by the American Welding Society, or for particular facility types, such as the Standard Specifications for Highway Bridges issued by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

These general specifications must be modified to reflect local conditions, policies, available materials, local regulations and other special circumstances.

Construction specifications normally consist of a series of instructions or prohibitions for specific operations.

In recent years, performance specifications have been developed for many construction operations. Rather than specifying the required construction process, these specifications refer to the required performance or quality of the finished facility.

The exact method by which this performance is obtained is left to the construction contractor. For example, traditional specifications for asphalt pavement specified the composition of the asphalt material, the asphalt temperature during paving, and compacting procedures.

In contrast, a performance specification for asphalt would detail the desired performance of the pavement with respect to impermeability, strength, etc. How the desired performance level was attained would be up to the paving contractor.

In some cases, the payment for asphalt paving might increase with better quality of asphalt beyond some minimum level of performance.

3.4 Total Quality Control

Quality control in construction typically involves insuring compliance with minimum standards of material and workmanship in order to insure the performance of the facility according to the design.

For the purpose of insuring compliance, random samples and statistical methods are commonly used as the basis for accepting or rejecting work completed and batches of materials. Rejection of a batch is based on non-conformance or violation of the relevant design specifications.

An implicit assumption in these traditional quality control practices is the notion of an acceptable quality level which is a allowable fraction of defective items.

Materials obtained from suppliers or work performed by an organization is inspected and passed as acceptable if the estimated defective percentage is within the acceptable quality level. Problems with materials or goods are corrected after delivery of the product.

In contrast to this traditional approach of quality control is the goal of total quality control. In this system, no defective items are allowed anywhere in the construction process. While the zero defects goal can never be permanently obtained, it provides a goal so that an organization is never satisfied with its quality control program even if defects are reduced by substantial amounts year after year.

This concept and approach to quality control was first developed in manufacturing firms in Japan and Europe, but has since spread to many construction companies.

The best known formal certification for quality improvement is the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 9000 standard. ISO 9000 emphasizes good documentation, quality goals and a series of cycles of planning, implementation and review.

Total quality control is a commitment to quality expressed in all parts of an organization and typically involves many elements. Design reviews to insure safe and effective construction procedures are a major element.

Other elements include extensive training for personnel, shifting the responsibility for detecting defects from quality control inspectors to workers, and continually maintaining equipment.

Worker involvement in improved quality control is often formalized in quality circles in which groups of workers meet regularly to make suggestions for quality improvement.

Material suppliers are also required to insure zero defects in delivered goods. Initially, all materials from a supplier are inspected and batches of goods with any defective items are returned. Suppliers with good records can be certified and not subject to complete inspection subsequently.

The traditional microeconomic view of quality control is that there is an "optimum" proportion of defective items. Trying to achieve greater quality than this optimum would substantially increase costs of inspection and reduce worker productivity. However, many companies have found that commitment to total quality control has substantial economic benefits that had been unappreciated in traditional approaches. Expenses associated with inventory, rework, scrap and warranties were reduced. Worker enthusiasm and commitment improved. Customers often appreciated higher quality work and would pay a premium for good quality. As a result, improved quality control became a competitive advantage.

Of course, total quality control is difficult to apply, particular in construction.

The unique nature of each facility, the variability in the workforce, the multitude of subcontractors and the cost of making necessary investments in education and procedures make programs of total quality control in construction difficult. Nevertheless, a commitment to improved quality even without endorsing the goal of zero defects can pay real dividends to organizations.

3.5 Safety

Construction is a relatively hazardous undertaking. As Table 3-1 illustrates, there are significantly more injuries and lost workdays due to injuries or illnesses in construction than in virtually any other industry. 

Included in this total are direct costs (medical costs, premiums for workers' compensation benefits, liability and property losses) as well as indirect costs (reduced worker productivity, delays in projects, administrative time, and damage to equipment and the facility).

In contrast to most industrial accidents, innocent bystanders may also be injured by construction accidents. Several crane collapses from high rise buildings under construction have resulted in fatalities to passerbys.

Prudent project managers and owners would like to reduce accidents, injuries and illnesses as much as possible.

TABLE 3-1  Nonfatal Occupational Injury and Illness Incidence Rates

Industry

1996

2006

Agriculture, forestry, fishing

Mining

Construction

Manufacturing

Trade,Transportation and utilities

Financial activities

Professional and business services

8.7

5.4

9.9

10.6

8.7

2.4

6.0

6

3.5

5.9

6

5

1.5

1.2

Note: Data represent total number of cases per 100 full-time employees

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational injuries and Illnesses in the United States by Industry, annual

As with all the other costs of construction, it is a mistake for owners to ignore a significant category of costs such as injury and illnesses.

While contractors may pay insurance premiums directly, these costs are reflected in bid prices or contract amounts.

Delays caused by injuries and illnesses can present significant opportunity costs to owners. In the long run, the owners of constructed facilities must pay all the costs of construction.

For the case of injuries and illnesses, this general principle might be slightly qualified since significant costs are borne by workers themselves or society at large.

However, court judgments and insurance payments compensate for individual losses and are ultimately borne by the owners.

The causes of injuries in construction are numerous. Table 3-2 lists the reported causes of accidents in the US construction industry in 1997 and 2004. The largest single category for both injuries and fatalities are individual falls. Handling goods and transportation are also a significant cause of injuries.

From a management perspective, however, these reported causes do not really provide a useful prescription for safety policies. An individual fall may be caused by a series of coincidences: a railing might not be secure, a worker might be inattentive, the footing may be slippery, etc. Removing any one of these compound causes might serve to prevent any particular accident. However, it is clear that conditions such as unsecured railings will normally increase the risk of accidents.

Table 3-3 provides a more detailed list of causes of fatalities for construction sites alone, but again each fatality may have multiple causes.

TABLE 3-2  Fatal Occupational Injuries in Construction, 1997 and 2004

Year

1997

2004

Total fatalities

Falls

Transportation incidents

Contact with objects & equipment

Exposure to harmful substances and environments

1,107

376

288

199

188

1,234

445

287

267

170

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

TABLE 3-3  Fatality Causes in Construction, 1996/1997 and 2006/2007

Year

96/97

06/07

Total accidents

Falls from a height

Struck by a moving vehicle

Struck by moving/falling object 

Trapped by something overturning/collapsing

Drowning/asphyxiation

287

88

43

57

16

9

241

45

30

40

19

16

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Various measures are available to improve jobsite safety in construction. Several of the most important occur before construction is undertaken. These include design, choice of technology and education.

By altering facility designs, particular structures can be safer or more hazardous to construct.

Educating workers and managers in proper procedures and hazards can have a direct impact on jobsite safety.

The realization of the large costs involved in construction injuries and illnesses provides a considerable motivation for awareness and education. Regular safety inspections and safety meetings have become standard practices on most job sites.

Pre-qualification of contractors and sub-contractors with regard to safety is another important avenue for safety improvement.

If contractors are only invited to bid or enter negotiations if they have an acceptable record of safety (as well as quality performance), then a direct incentive is provided to insure adequate safety on the part of contractors.

During the construction process itself, the most important safety related measures are to insure vigilance and cooperation on the part of managers, inspectors and workers. Vigilance involves considering the risks of different working practices.

In also involves maintaining temporary physical safeguards such as barricades, braces, guy lines, railings, toe boards and the like.

Sets of standard practices are also important, such as: [3]

requiring hard hats on site.

requiring eye protection on site.

requiring hearing protection near loud equipment.

insuring safety shoes for workers.

providing first-aid supplies and trained personnel on site

While eliminating accidents and work related illnesses is a worthwhile goal, it will never be attained.

Construction has a number of characteristics making it inherently hazardous. Large forces are involved in many operations.

The jobsite is continually changing as construction proceeds. Workers do not have fixed worksites and must move around a structure under construction. The tenure of a worker on a site is short, so the worker's familiarity and the employer-employee relationship are less settled than in manufacturing settings.

Despite these peculiarities and as a result of exactly these special problems, improving worksite safety is a very important project management concern.

[3] Fox, A.J. and Cornell, H.A., (eds), Quality in the Constructed Project, American Society of Civil Engineers, New York, 1984.

4. Financing of Constructed Facilities

A major construction project requires an enormous amount of capital that is often supplied by lenders who want to be assured that the project will offer a fair return on the investment.

The direct costs associated with a major construction project may be broadly classified into two categories: (1) the construction expenses paid to the general contractor for erecting the facility on site and (2) the expenses for land acquisition, legal fees, architect/engineer fees, construction management fees, interest on construction loans and the opportunity cost of carrying empty space in the facility until it is fully occupied.

The direct construction costs in the first category represent approximately 60 to 80 percent of the total costs in most construction projects. Since the costs of construction are ultimately borne by the owner, careful financial planning for the facility must be made prior to construction.

4.1 Construction Financing

Construction loans to contractors are usually provided by banks or savings and loan associations for construction financing. Upon the completion of the facility, construction loans will be terminated and the post-construction facility financing will be arranged by the owner.

Construction loans provided for different types of construction vary.

In the case of residential housing, construction loans and long-term mortgages can be obtained from savings and loans associations or commercial banks.

For institutional and commercial buildings, construction loans are usually obtained from commercial banks.

Since the value of specialized industrial buildings as collateral for loans is limited, construction loans in this domain are rare, and construction financing can be done from the pool of general corporate funds.

For infrastructure construction owned by government, the property cannot be used as security for a private loan, but there are many possible ways to finance the construction, such as general appropriation from taxation or special bonds issued for the project.

Traditionally, banks serve as construction lenders in a three-party agreement among the contractor, the owner and the bank. The stipulated loan will be paid to the contractor on an agreed schedule upon the verification of completion of various portions of the project.

Generally, a payment request together with a standard progress report will be submitted each month by the contractor to the owner which in turn submits a draw request to the bank. Provided that the work to date has been performed satisfactorily, the disbursement is made on that basis during the construction period.

Under such circumstances, the bank has been primarily concerned with the completion of the facility on time and within the budget. The economic life of the facility after its completion is not a concern because of the transfer of risk to the owner or an institutional lender.

4.2 Facility Financing

Many private corporations maintain a pool of general funds resulting from retained earnings and long-term borrowing on the strength of corporate assets, which can be used for facility financing.

Similarly, for public agencies, the long-term funding may be obtained from the commitment of general tax revenues from the federal, state and/or local governments.

Both private corporations and public agencies may issue special bonds for the constructed facilities which may obtain lower interest rates than other forms of borrowing.

Short-term borrowing may also be used for bridging the gaps in long-term financing.

Some corporate bonds are convertible to stocks under circumstances specified in the bond agreement.

For public facilities, the assessment of user fees to repay the bond funds merits consideration for certain types of facilities such as toll roads and sewage treatment plants. [4] 

The use of mortgages is primarily confined to rental properties such as apartments and office buildings.

[4] Hendrickson, C., "Financing Civil Works with User Fees," Civil Engineering, Vol. 53, No. 2, February 1983, pp. 71-72.

Because of the sudden surge of interest rates in the late 1970's, many financial institutions offer, in addition to the traditional fixed rate long-term mortgage commitments, other arrangements such as a combination of debt and a percentage of ownership in exchange for a long-term mortgage or the use of adjustable rate mortgages.

In some cases, the construction loan may be granted on an open-ended basis without a long-term financing commitment. For example, the plan might be issued for the construction period with an option to extend it for a period of up to three years in order to give the owner more time to seek alternative long-term financing on the completed facility. The bank will be drawn into situations involving financial risk if it chooses to be a lender without long-term guarantees.

For international projects, the currency used for financing agreements becomes important.  If financial agreements are written in terms of local currencies, then fluctuations in the currency exchange rate can significantly affect the cost and ultimately profit of a project.  In some cases, payments might also be made in particular commodities such as petroleum or the output from the facility itself.  

Again, these arrangements result in greater uncertainty in the financing scheme because the price of these commodities may vary.

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