Built Environment

The Built Environment is a Hostile Place

Civil wars in Africa, tornados in the USA, floods and run-away fires in Australia, earthquakes and tsunamis in countries near the ring of fire are common occurrences these days. Constructing infrastructure in frigid sub-zero temperature or blistering 50oC heat wave is not for sissies. These hostile environments are uncomfortable, risky and even life threatening for construction project managers to operate in.

As project management practices spread throughout the built environment, many project professionals find themselves managing initiatives in some extreme environments. In these precarious situations, everyday decisions can have potentially deadly consequences. From laying pipelines on arctic tundra to installing telecommunications technology in war-ravaged villages, many locales present dangerous obstacles that must be carefully managed to keep teams safe and projects on track. 

A spate of fatal building collapses in South Africa was a contributing factor towards the establishment of the Council for Built Environment (CBE)  in terms of Council for the Built Environment Act in 2000 as the over-arching body of six built environment councils:

  • Project and Construction Management
  • Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Quantity Surveying
  • Property Valuation
  • Landscape Architect

The built environment includes all structures that are planned and/or erected above or underground, as well as the land utilized for the purpose and supporting infrastructure.

The South African Council for Project and Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP) is a statutory body established by the Project and Construction Management Act in 2000 to provide for statutory professional certification, registration and regulation of Project and Construction Management Professions in order to protect public interest and advance construction and project management education. This requires anyone who takes the lead in planning or executing projects in the built environment, whether it is a mega-program or a house renovation project, to be registered with SACPCMP.

To successfully complete projects in extreme and remote environments without being overwhelmed, project professionals have to maintain realistic expectations about what they can accomplish. Meeting project goals while protecting team members takes substantial pre-planning, from building extra time into the project schedule for weather-related shutdowns, to addressing access to materials and labour at remote work sites.

Recently an Australian team on an expedition to the Antarctic forgot to pack a crucial hose onto their ship to refuel the scientific station. To their horror they only discovered this oversight on arrival in the Antarctic, and had to sail home again to collect the hose, incurring a delay of many weeks, not to mention the waste of money.

Construction teams in Alaska rely on ice roads that can only be built when it gets cold enough. The state then has to approve the frozen roads, and once they begin to melt in the spring, all work in the area has to be completed, and companies must get their people and equipment safely offsite within days. Usually the roads freeze around the middle of December, but this year, they didn't freeze for another three weeks, which meant projects lost crucial work time on already tight schedules. It seems like global warming is yet another challenge for the construction project manager.

For other construction project managers, extreme conditions come in the form of political upheaval or armed conflict. South African companies have suffered severe setbacks in Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to this scourge.

Some of the biggest challenges are the dilapidated state of infrastructure and meagre resources available from the land. This puts pressure on resources, and creates unhygienic and constrained living conditions that turn the project into a personal challenge for team members.

While most of these issues cannot be completely avoided, thorough preplanning and effective risk management can mitigate their impact on the team and the project. Power outages, difficulty in securing fuel and road blocks due to landslides or bandits are some of the obstacles encountered in the execution of these projects. The number-one concern, though, is safety.

A thorough understanding of the area, the people, the conflict and the constraints of the environment proves invaluable in translating the subjective parameters into objective calculations of procurements, human resources and spare parts.

Risks faced in war-ravaged nations and other extreme environments cannot be entirely mitigated. After time, though, project professionals often start to develop a gut feeling about what's coming and how to respond. That  sixth sense can help construction project managers keep themselves and their stakeholder’s safe in extreme environments.

Safety concerns also extend to project team members themselves. While in earthquake-prone Chile, a project team got stuck for the night in a small town with only one hotel made from adobe bricks, which collapse easily in earthquakes. The nation was still reeling from constant aftershocks, and they had to decide whether to stay in the lodgings or continue to the next town to find sturdier accommodation. That would mean breaking curfew and dealing with the associated consequences. In the end the team move on , deeming the risk of the hotel collapsing greater than that of breaking curfew.

Working in unforgiving terrain demands the ability to go beyond the call of duty and work diligently to achieve tangible outcomes in the face of adversity.

ProjectPro offers a 3-day Engineering and Construction Project Management course which is validated by SAICE and ECSA for 3 Continuing Professional Development credits. It serves as an excellent preparation for construction project managers who are applying for registration with the South African Council for Project and Construction Management Professions. The next courses in are:

  • 13-15 April 2016 - Gauteng
  • 18-20 April 2016 - Durban

To register email training@projectpro.co.za or visit our website www.projectpro.co.za

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