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The Power To Save A Life

As we discussed last time, the resource-loaded schedule represents a project manager’s most valuable tool for understanding and controlling the time and money requirements on any given project. With a continued focus on schedule importance, this article seeks to understand the correlation between schedule pressure and safety performance. More specifically, does a protracted or compressed schedule contribute to an increase in recordable injuries, near misses or safety incidences? The answer to this question will further demonstrate the critical importance of developing, maintaining and updating a proper resource-loaded schedule from the onset of a project.

In today’s strained construction environment, many projects are met with stringent timelines, accumulating rework, depleted material resources and shifting political winds. To top it all off, safety of workers, employees and personnel (a company’s human assets) are of supreme importance, but are simultaneously subject to the sensitive underlying frameworks of chaos and complexity. These naturally occurring forces play a crucial role in the ultimate outcome of every project. Specifically, they contribute to the determination of acceptable margins of error and contingency allowances. While safety is always a priority, it is not uncommon for it to take a backseat to schedule when a manager is confronted with liquidated damages, lost profits and breach of contract. Time constraints sometimes cause contractors to implement aggressive schedule compression techniques in order to achieve required completion dates for certain construction activities. The correlation between schedule compression and safety, from a construction perspective, is critical for every manager to understand when deliberating the usage of such methods on their project.

A multitude of schedule compression techniques exist, including mandatory overtime, over-manning, working out of sequence, and the implementation of shift work. There is research to suggest that the use of these techniques contributes to decreased productivity, in most circumstances. Studies find that after 3 weeks of continuous schedule overtime, productivity diminishes. Moreover, quality of construction suffers and work defects increase as schedule pressure mounts because contractors are influenced to cut corners. Finally, research findings surrounding the use of shift work are the most foreboding. Results show that implementation of night shifts contributes to an increase in safety risk as well as a decrease in productivity. Any of these effects have the potential to negate the benefit sought from the use of such techniques.

It may be difficult to deduce from current research that there is a direct link between schedule compression and an increased occurrence of recordable injuries, near misses or safety incidences. However, it has been shown that schedule compression tends to permeate a project in undesirable ways. Prevailing productivity, cost, safety and ultimately delivery have the potential to be swayed unpredictably when schedule pressure mounts. This cements the importance of developing and understanding the real life goals of a project, through the lens of time and illustrated in the resource-loaded project schedule. With increased energy and scrutiny at the beginning of the project, a realistic and forthright schedule could potentially mitigate the effects of schedule compression, especially when appropriate allowances are applied and maintained. This best practice project management tool could very well have the power to save a life.

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