Catch a Break: How to Reduce Construction Fatigue at Your Facility

by | Jan 23, 2023

My wife and I tell our guests to make themselves at home, but this can quickly go awry. Several years ago, with only two months until our first child was due, we decided to buy a fixer-upper and start a complete “gut and rebuild.” While my wife and I were sequestered in the only intact room, the rest of the house was torn apart. I carefully completed some work on my own, but it drove me nuts each night when I had to move the contractor’s ill-placed tools away from the front door, vacuum their dust, and clear extension cords from exit paths—all while making sure my wife didn’t divorce me for taking on this home project!

Working collaboratively in water/wastewater has taught me many things, but one—often overlooked—lesson is how to prevent myself from becoming a bad guest while working in someone else’s facility. With the industry seeing many large-scale projects or back-to-back, concurrent projects, a facility operator’s day job is consistently difficult, especially while maintaining compliance with facility operations and keeping customers happy. I have dubbed this added stress “construction fatigue.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way, and collaborative delivery can be the solution. All contractors should be held to a “clean-site” standard: no stray water bottles or trash blowing in the wind and minimal dust. Moving a step further, there are several strategies that a project team can implement, by using the collaborative delivery process, to become a much better guest and to reduce construction fatigue.

  1. Expand what maintenance of plant operations (MOPO) means and include plans with each design deliverable (30/60/90). The typical MOPO plan that I see is always the same; they include the steps a contractor is going to take to integrate new work into existing plant processes (pipe tie-ins, electrical tie-ins, etc.).

MOPO plans should also include items necessary for the people that operate water/wastewater facilities 24/7. These plans include new travel paths for plant staff around construction work areas, clear and safe work boundaries, temporary lighting needs, traffic routing plans for plant operations, temporary operator workstations, and staging areas specific to plant operations.

By proactively identifying needs and producing MOPO plans at the 30% design stage, and then progressing them at 60% and 90%, the entire team has time to refine, optimize, and, most importantly, get comfortable with how construction is going to work around plant operations (not the other way around).

  1. Ask the right questions of the right people. This tactic seems straightforward, but I have seen missed opportunities for critical operations input during the design stage due to an insufficient outreach to plant operations early in the project life cycle.

Operations and maintenance workshops are a great way to get acquainted with facility needs. Sometimes walking the site with a few operators and maintenance staff to discuss their daily needs is a more efficient path.

A good gut check is asking if you (or your team) know the names of the entire facility operations and maintenance staff and have had a meaningful conversation with them, regardless of the format.

  1. Separate construction operations from plant operations. On any given day, a construction site is a whirlwind of activity with concrete trucks, material deliveries, and workers and inspectors all buzzing into and out of the site. Likewise, the complex operations at each water/wastewater plant demand an equal amount of input and output with chemical deliveries, reclaimed water truck customers, maintenance crews, and other staff all requiring unimpeded access.

If possible, look for a separate entrance for construction operations that is well away from the main plant entrance. This may require temporary access from another property, a temporary easement, or even specific, temporary roads to be built. All of these can be easily planned early in the design stage and refined as the project progresses.

Another simple solution is to establish a delivery address other than the main plant address so that mail and other items do not overburden the already packed daily duties of plant operations staff.

  1. You have a contractor on board—use them. We all have a “honey do” list that is longer than we wish it was. Both the preconstruction phase and construction phase afford opportunities to address immediate plant needs that seem to linger longer than preferred.

An allowance can be included during the preconstruction phase to cover items such as site investigations, early procurement, submittals, and permitting. This preconstruction allowance and scope can be expanded to include immediate plant needs (e.g., cracked sidewalks, pump repair, etc.).

In some cases, the contract may need to be expanded to include language to allow for work on-site during the preconstruction phase. In doing so, the immediate plant needs are included with the upcoming project, and the collaborative delivery process allows for an immediate avenue to address them. It is said that problems typically get worse if left unaddressed, and it’s easy to see how the challenges of repairs at an existing plant will only get worse during the mayhem of construction.

The above are just a few ways to help reduce construction fatigue. Now I just need to incorporate these guidelines on my next home project!