What To Do When Something Goes Wrong On Your Construction Site

Construction worker in reflective vest and helmet, sitting at a makeshift desk outdoors, looks stressed while covering face with hands, with laptop and blueprints nearby.

Something going wrong on a construction site is a matter of “when”, not “if”. Being ready to deal with issues when they inevitably arise is one of the most important skills a contractor – especially a general contractor – needs to have to be successful in this industry.

How you handle an issue when it arises speaks volumes about you, your company, and your craft. If you’re unable to handle problems, your crew and clients can lose faith in your abilities to get the job done correctly – leading to lost business now and in the future.

While every construction jobsite issue is unique, there is a basic formula you can follow every time to make sure you keep control of the situation – and return a good result for both you and your customer.

1. Take A Pause

The first thing you need to do when something goes wrong is to not panic. Taking a moment to assess the situation is crucial. Even the briefest of pauses allows for a calm evaluation of the issue, preventing hasty decisions that could worsen the problem both in the short term and the long run.

Once you’ve taken a moment to collect yourself and establish a calm, relaxed demeanor, you can then take clear, direct action.

2. Make Sure Everyone is Safe

Safety is the top priority. Immediate actions should include ensuring all personnel are safe, securing the area to prevent further accidents, and adhering to safety protocols set forth by your state, nation, and own personal code of conduct.

Construction sites are high-risk environments, with the industry often recording the highest fatalities annually. PPE is essential, and its usage should be enforced at all times to minimize risks – especially in the wake of an on-site issue, you need to make sure everything is safe and sound.

3. Identify the Issue

Identifying the root cause of the problem is the first step toward resolution because if you don’t know what’s wrong, you can’t fix it. Whether it’s a scheduling delay, quality issue, equipment failure, natural disaster, or a misunderstanding with a contractor, pinpointing the exact problem is vital.

It’s good to engage with your team here, looking directly at the specialists who have experience and expertise in the area of issue. Using a single source of truth for project information can help in accurately identifying issues.

4. Communicate to All Stakeholders

Transparent communication with all stakeholders, including clients, team members, and suppliers, is critical at any moment during construction – when something goes wrong, it becomes even more important.

Keeping stakeholders informed helps in managing expectations amongst all parties, and fosters a collaborative environment for problem-solving. Where necessary, it’s important to address any contractual concerns and be open to amending contracts to accommodate unforeseen changes to the initial terms and timelines.

When in doubt, overcommunicate. Communicating more than you think is necessary creates a paper trail amongst teams and stakeholders, which is in everyone’s interest as it creates accountability and clarity.

5. Establish the Solution

Now that you know what the problem is and have communicated it to the important parties, you can start working on fixing it. However, just as we identified the issue in step 1 when establishing a solution, you need to identify what that solution is.

Developing a viable solution involves considering all aspects of the problem and engaging with key stakeholders for their input. Some of the common types of solutions to issues on a job site include revising schedules, reallocating resources, or modifying project plans. Ensuring the solution is sustainable over the long term is crucial for the success of the project.

6. Delegate All Tasks

Effective delegation ensures tasks are completed efficiently. Clear communication of responsibilities and expectations is key when you’re trying to address issues on a job site – if not, your attempt to solve issues can just lead to bigger issues as your team tries to make sense of your orders.

Delegating effectively is an essential contractor task if you have any employees at all, but even more so if you have a lot of subcontractors and other workers doing various disparate tasks on giant job sites. If you’re a commercial contractor, there’s no way you’re doing your job right if you’re not delegating well!

7. Stay Engaged Until It’s Resolved (and After)

Ongoing engagement and oversight until the issue is fully resolved are crucial. You may be tempted, once it seems the problem is under control, to direct your attention elsewhere, but resist the temptation.

Continuous involvement not only helps mitigate any further issues with this issue, establishing trust with your client and stakeholders, but it also supports a groundspring culture of accountability and improvement. Maintaining open lines of communication and addressing any concerns promptly can prevent small issues from becoming major problems​

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