Force majeure in construction: Protecting your projects from unforeseen events by investing on preparation

Written by LetsBuild

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Force majeure in construction

Force majeure is a French term that means ‘superior force’, denoting an ‘act of God’. Simply, it refers to extraordinary, unusual, unforeseen events that surpass the practical control of an individual or a group to a contract that prevents a party from fulfilling an obligation or obligations under that contract. Typically, this event is something that a party in a contract could not fairly avoid or reasonably attribute to another party. Depending on what the contract stipulates, the following could be very likely considered as force majeure:

  • unexpected changes in legislation/s
  • wars and other conflicts like terrorism
  • unusually unfavorable weather conditions
  • civil unrest like demonstrations, strikes or riots
  • fires
  • natural calamities like earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions
  • epidemics or pandemics.

In construction, force majeure clauses intend to establish which situations the term applies to alongside recommendations on how such circumstances should be handled. Some contracts deem force majeure as a relevant event that may grant the contractor ability to file claims on an extended time needed to deliver their obligations under the contract.

Free ebook: Why WhatsApp and Excel aren’t enough for running complex construction projects

While clients usually agree with contractors when they cannot execute their jobs when a genuine force majeure arises, problems emerge when a client suspects that the contractor is claiming an unwarranted force majeure for monetary gain and that the situation could have easily been predicted, avoided or moderated. These claim disputes are common especially when it comes to unfavorable weather as the term is mostly vaguely defined.

The importance of preparati​​on in construction

As force majeures are as defined unforeseen, the best way to deal with them is to prepare for any worst case situation. By being prepared, you also mitigate related issues and prevent disputes that may arise.

Unforeseen issues that emerge on site can be avoided and the problems they cause can be mitigated through better preparation around:

  • Orders
  • Deliveries
  • Decisions and choices
  • Drawings
  • Crew schedules

Being prepared for force majeure events allows you and your team the flexibility to pick up from where work was halted and continue your construction contract by an extension of time. Being better prepared, however, may even mean continuing with your construction without even needing the time extension.

Learn more: Construction management 101: The ultimate guide

So how can one prepare for unforeseen events? For example, a strike has halted your construction project because the civil unrest has caused so much traffic that your suppliers failed to deliver your prefabricated elements on time. By having your team communicate in one, central place, you can immediately update your suppliers and your on-site crews which deliveries to expect at what time, and communicate with the specific crew responsible for receiving the prefab elements what time they need to be on site while notifying all the other crews of the delay. Thus, mitigating further delay and saving time and labor resources that would no longer be needed on that day. Having the capability to gather all involved parties in one place to find a solution together ensures a proactive approach in project preparation and constraint resolution.

How to protect your construction projects from unforeseen events

Unforeseen events need not cause disasters. Here are five ways in which you can prepare your project for any unforeseen event.

1. Communicate with all project stakeholders before the project begins

Before starting your project, you should communicate with all project stakeholders the general plan and schedule including your preparation plans and clauses dealing with specific situations that may arise. Establish a communication and collaboration protocol that would make it easy for your project stakeholders to access the latest documents.

2. Define in detail what events fall under force majeure and establish how they should be handled

As a project manager, one of the things you need to clearly define are the details involving events that fall under force majeure. As these events tend not to be clearly defined, it is best to include parameters that can help stakeholders determine whether a force majeure is genuine or not. Do not forget to include instructions on how each specific event should be handled.

3. Connect all crews, team members and subcontractors around a live, shareable version of your programme

Connecting your crews, contractors and subcontractors in real time gives you the advantage of mitigating any risk associated with an unforeseen event. Everyone is kept on the same page while allowing them to understand changes as they happen, giving everyone the flexibility to adjust in real time. Having connected teams connected to the right project information allows you to make better and faster decisions. Mitigate the risks of unforeseen events with updated and accurate data communication.

Read also: How to bring your construction schedule straight to the site

4. Connect your schedules through integrated planning

Having your short-term schedules integrated into the overall planning gives you complete control and visibility to manage your construction priorities. This schedule transparency allows you to understand what is currently happening in the project and for whatever unforeseen event, you always stay ahead and solve potential risks and issues before they can snowball into something damaging. Predict events, identify potential problems and avoid their impact on your budget and schedule. Avoid unforeseen surprises with better project control and visibility.

5. Standardise as much as you can

Standardise your work process, standardise your communication, standardise your documentation and easily learn from your data insights and apply best practices to your future projects. By standardising as much as you can in your project, you create valuable project data that you can learn from and improve on. You can then align your best practices and optimise your workflows across your projects. This allows you precise estimations to avoid unnecessary risks and predict unforeseen events, protecting your project from surprise costs, delays, downtime, and potential disputes.

Protect your project from force majeure

As a construction professional or a project manager, it is essential at the start of any project that you review your construction contract and determine your rights and obligations with regards to the entire project and in the context of a force majeure. This initial information should guide you on what to prepare for and what to look out for to avoid claim disputes.

By connecting yourself and your team to actionable insights from your project and centralising all workflow and communication, you protect yourself against any surprise, even unforeseen events. To learn more about how you can equip your team with accurate data communication and protect your project from unexpected events, download our free ebook.