Thursday, 3 November 2016

Cutting Cost and Cutting Corners: The Point Where Cutting Goes Wrong - Engr. Osaz’ ENOBAKHARE

Cutting action is a normal part of the construction process. You’ve got to cut something at some point before a project gets to completion stage. From the design stages, you cut lines and shape in drawings to fit. At the costing stage, attempts are often made to cut down rates. On site, if you are not cutting a hot-rolled steel bar with a hack saw to achieve the required length, then you would be cutting timber (i.e. wood) to size with a hand saw. 

If formwork is off the program of work for the day, then you may have to cut blocks into three-quarter or half-size with a trowel to fit into walls or cut concrete with a diamond cutter to create some allowances. 

Other times, you may have to cut a covering or finishing material and so on. In fact the cutting action is so relevant that if it is not properly done, it can cause poor condition of work leading to avoidable delay, wastage and rework.  

But there are other forms of cutting that may not involve the use of typical construction tools; these are the acts of cutting corners and cutting costs. It is important to stress here that either of the two or a combination of both in a very ill-manner has been largely established as part of the factors responsible for the prevalent rate of building collapse across the country and elsewhere.    

Cutting Cost: Care must be taken in reducing
estimated cost of construction
It’s too early to raise your eyebrow. It’s cool to cut cost but you must do it in a manner that does not jeopardize the quality of materials and workmanship. 

You don’t expect a good work when a contract is underpriced. I haven’t seen a ‘not-for-profit’ building contractor in a long while or perhaps, never at anytime. I think it is safe to say nearly all contractors are in the construction business to make profit. 

If this is true, there is therefore a high tendency that handling a project without getting the desired or appropriate profit scale may promote temptation for project handlers to cut corners. In-house research has shown clearly that the act of cutting cost has a bearing on the tendency to cut corner and vice versa. 

But there are some contractors that cut corners even when the project is grossly over-priced and this is rather unfortunate. Here is something you can easily relate with; as the project owner tries to cut cost of construction so do the contractor also try to cut cost of implementation and when two greedy cutters meet, something gets badly cut. That 'thing' is often the physical project.     

As an advocate for reduced cost of construction to ensure that the largely excluded low-income class live and work in decent spaces or environments, I equally do not agree that low cost of construction should mean poor quality of work. There must be an excellent balance and that’s where project owners and construction professionals need to be fair enough at least for the sake of the project and future users. 

For instance, as it is today, it is impracticable to expect a decent 4-bedroom bungalow (all room en-suite) to be completed with 2 Million Naira using Sandcrete blocks as the parent wall material. But if an open bid is done right away for the said project type with such an amount as the contract sum, some con-artists parading themselves as contractors would jump at it –promising sky and skylines. But mind you two weeks into the project, the successful bidder is likely to top your ‘list of wanted persons’; absconding with project funds and sometimes construction materials as has been established in known cases and reports.

Cutting corners during construction is not only professional wrong; it is also a criminal offence punishable by law in several climes. Any contractor or professional or project owner caught doing such should be reported to the appropriate authorities for sanctioning.

There is really nothing wrong in minimizing or cutting cost of construction but ‘over-cutting cost’ may breed the act of cutting corner and then regrets. It’s a caveat to both parties!

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