5 ways to avoid costly communication inefficiencies on the job site
Blueprints are key to keeping everyone on the same page during a construction project. Unfortunately, the same planning is not put into crafting a solid job site communication plan, even though it is just as important.
Poor communication can lead to a lack of coordination between general contractors and subcontractors, confusion about how projects should progress, and dangerous situations when safety issues arise.
When the GC plans an effective communication strategy before work begins, the result will be improved morale, a sense of teamwork between subcontractors, and less risk of added costs from rework, delays, and inefficient sequencing. Ultimately, this leads to a more productive and safer work environment.
The Reasons for Poor Communication
There are several reasons why communication breakdowns can occur in the field. It starts when the GC fails to spell out how communication should take place in specific situations. Often, there isn’t a communication hierarchy in place to dictate roles. So workers are unsure about whom to contact when various situations occur. Additionally, a lack of shared contact information between subcontractors can make it difficult for them to coordinate with one another.
The inability to broadcast messages on the same medium to all project participants can also be a problem. For example, if a fast-moving storm is on the horizon, superintendents need to quickly inform all subcontracting companies on the job site. Windows must be closed, and gear must be packed up quickly. Unfortunately, there is no quick way to get word to everyone in this situation.
The Consequences of Poor Communication
Poor communication can have many negative impacts. In one instance, a utility company accidentally cut the temporary power line at a job site, making it impossible for any of the trades to do their work. The GC had to call all of them individually to tell them not to show up, but he didn’t reach everyone. When some of the subs arrived at the site, they had nothing to do.
It only takes one small issue from a single sub to upset an entire site’s efficiency. For example, as he worked on a project, a cabinetmaker realized that a completed half wall needed to be moved. The GC had to coordinate with all of the trades involved to put some jobs on hold and find out when others could come in to make the necessary changes. Only after a last-minute scramble were the cabinets installed.
Strategies to Combat Inefficiency
Situations such as these can be avoided with a communication plan. Here are some ways to cut through the chaos and communicate more efficiently:
- Devise a job site communication plan. Your communication plan should define roles in case of an emergency or unexpected event. This is important because death is a potential consequence of not having a communication plan in place!
- Hold frequent project meetings. Meet with everyone at regular intervals, such as every couple weeks or even daily if needed. This way, everyone is in regular communication as project milestones are reached.
- Embrace and utilize communication technology. Job site efficiency can be increased with cloud-based document sharing apps such as PlanGrid, group project management collaboration apps such as Basecamp, and enterprise social networks such as Yammer. A group-messaging app such as Google Hangouts can also help everyone stay on the same page.
- Create a job site directory. All parties should be able to contact each other to make communication flow. Increased transparency won’t necessarily undermine decision-making authority by project managers, but it will save the GC from being an intermediary step for every information exchange between subs.
- Establish a culture of frequent check-ins. In order for everyone to know when activity is taking place on the job site, people should be touching base with one another. This will reduce inefficiencies and make it easier for subs to coordinate with each other.
Poor job site communication can have many negative consequences. If GCs want to avoid the issues that can arise because of poor communication, then they need to invest in processes and technology that keep everyone updated on project developments. An effective job site communication strategy will ensure that one hand always knows what the other is doing and no one is ever forgotten.
Jay Olsen founded Jobsite Unite in 2012 after being frustrated by the lack of communication on construction sites. Jay, who has been around construction his entire life, built a career in the construction industry in Des Moines, Iowa.
Why engineers must always consider human-induced vibration
Human induced vibration, or more accurately vibrations caused by human footfall, often conjures images of Millennium Bridge-style swaying or collapsing buildings.
But in reality, the ‘damage’ caused by human-induced vibrations is less likely to ruin a structure and more likely to cause discomfort in people. Though not as dramatic as a structural failure, any good engineer wants to make sure the people using their structures, be it bridges or buildings or anything in between, can do so safely and comfortably. This is why human-induced vibration must be considered within the design process.
Resonance v Impulse
There are two ways that human-induced vibrations affect structures: resonant, and impulse or transient response. Put simply, resonance occurs when Object A vibrates at the same natural frequency as Object B.
Object B resonates and begins to vibrate too. Think singing to break a wine glass! Although the person singing isn’t touching the glass, the vibrations of their voice are resonating with the glass’s natural frequency, causing this vibration to get stronger and stronger and eventually, break the glass. In the case of a structure, resonance occurs when the pedestrian’s feet land in time with the vibration.
On the other hand, impulse or transient vibration responses can be a problem on structures where its natural frequencies are too high for resonance to occur, such as where the structure is light or stiff. Here the discomfort is caused by the initial “bounce” of the structure caused by the footstep and is a concern on light or stiff structures.
Engineers must, of course, design to reduce the vibration effects caused by either impulse or resonance.
Potential impacts from human induced vibration
Human induced vibration can lead to a number of effects upon the structure and its users. These include:
- Interfering with sensitive equipment Depending on the building’s purpose, what it houses can be affected by the vibrations of people using the building. Universities and laboratories, for example, may have sensitive equipment whose accuracy and performance could be damaged by vibrations. Even in ordinary offices the footfall vibration can wobble computer screens, upsetting the workers.
- Swaying bridges One of the most famous examples of human-induced resonance impacting a structure occurred with the Millennium Bridge. As people walked across the bridge, the footsteps caused the bridge to sway, and everybody had to walk in time with the sway because it was difficult not to. Thankfully, this feedback can only occur with horizontal vibrations so building floors are safe from it, but footbridges need careful checking to prevent it.
- Human discomfort According to research, vibrations in buildings and structures can cause depression and even motion sickness in inhabitants. Tall buildings sway in the wind and footsteps can be felt, even subconsciously by the occupants. It has been argued that modern efficient designs featuring thinner floor slabs and wider spacing in column design mean that these new builds are not as effective at dampening vibrations as older buildings are.
- Jeopardising structural integrity The build-up of constant vibrations on a structure can, eventually, lead to structural integrity being compromised. A worse-case scenario would be the complete collapse of the structure and is the reason some bridges insist that marching troops break step before crossing. Crowds jumping in time to music or in response to a goal in a stadium are also dynamic loads that might damage an under-designed structure.
How to avoid it
As mentioned, modern designs that favour thinner slabs and wider column spacing are particularly susceptible to all forms of vibration, human-induced or otherwise, but short spans can also suffer due to their low mass. Using sophisticated structural engineering software is an effective method for engineers to test for and mitigate footfall and other vibrations at the design stage.