The Smartest Way To The Top: Job Site Plans

Words: Clint Bridges

Words: Clint Bridges, EZ Scaffold

“Were you a contractor?” I get this question a lot. Yes, we started out in construction (not specifically masonry), and that is how we transitioned into the scaffold business. From the time I was five, my dad would take me to work with him, quality time I would not take back for anything. So, we think like contractors. Having that experience helps us to understand the issues that you have running a job site versus the controlled environment of a factory. One issue that has emerged over the past few years is planning, which typically doesn’t come naturally to some contractors. The focus tends to be getting “units in the wall” and not for things like planning.  However, a good Job Site Plan can have a dramatic effect on production.

Construction productivity is falling dramatically behind the rest of the U.S. economy. BEA data shows that while productivity for the rest of the U.S. economy has doubled over the last 50 years, construction has seen a 40% decline from 1970-2020 (The Strange and Awful Path of Productivity in the U.S. Construction Sector by Austan Goolsbee, Chad Syverson). There are many factors that have contributed to this, including the construction is getting more difficult (“we never used to have this much steel in the wall”), and safety has become a major focus (more on this later). Nothing we are doing is curbing this decline in productivity. 

Why would construction industry labor productivity still be decreasing despite our tools and equipment, like Crank Up Scaffold and Mast Climbers, dramatically increasing productivity and decreasing labor, as well as investing more in our workforce than ever? (Funny side note: Very little investment in technology was done in the construction industry prior to 1960. Our grandfathers were right… they had been doing it this way for 30 years, more like 3,000 years!)

The article Improving Construction Productivity (Filipe BarbosaJan Mischke, and Matthew Parsons) details the findings of a McKinsey Global Institute’s report. While this article doesn’t have enough space allocated to go into all the details of the report, planning was part of the seven ways to address improving productivity. “First, a rigorous planning process can help ensure activities are achieved on time and on budget. The use of integrated planning tools on a large-scale oil and gas project, for instance, achieved a 70 percent increase in the project’s productivity.” 70%?! We only need around 10% to double our profit!

Several years ago, EZ Scaffold started installing and dismantling scaffold for our customers, primarily mast climbers. Since then, we have installed and dismantled scaffold from Northern Utah to Southern Florida and many places in between. One thing that became apparent very quickly was that we had to get better at job site planning. When we were working local, a lot of our inefficiencies were masked. When we started working out of town, our inefficiencies became very expensive. 

During this time, our customers were asking us for help with scaffold plans. They had general contractors asking them for such plans. The typical phone call would start like this, “I’m a mason. I don’t know the first thing about creating a scaffold plan” (language cleaned up for this publication). These scaffold plans soon became more of a “Job Site Survey,” getting as specific as where to park your trailer, a procedure for safely unloading your trailer, and how/where you were staging your equipment. As we started to help our customers develop a scaffold plan, we realized that while the intent was to improve safety, this was also an effective tool to dramatically increase job site efficiency.

The Job Site Survey, when completed by a competent/qualified person, establishes vital information, including:

  1. Type of Scaffold
    1. Quantity required
    2. Accessories required
  2. Ground conditions
  3. Method of tying
  4. Identification of hazards
    1. Power lines
    2. Obstructions like canopies
  5. Forklift/crane size required
  6. Hoisting required
  7. Falling object protection required
  8. Winter enclosure required.

The eight items above are just a small sample of the entire Job Site Survey. All eight have caused me delays in getting scaffold installed and ready for masons to go to work.

Just this past week, we met with a contractor on the West Coast to go over a job site plan. We did not do this on the first job we did with them over ten years ago. Not planning for the method of tying not only delayed the installation of the scaffold but made what should have been a simple wall tie much more difficult to install and patch. This was the first time I had come across a “floating” relief angle for seismic conditions. Our meeting this time addressed the issue of what type of scaffold the job required (a mix of Crank Up and Mast Climbers) as well as job site obstructions, wall ties and material hoisting. While there is most likely something we didn’t anticipate (it’s a job site, not a factory!), planning increased the likelihood of a successful and safe job.

It is also recommended to get approval from the Engineer of Record (EOR) for your job site plan, especially for wall tie anchors and shoring. We had a job in Chattanooga where we reviewed the relief angle to tie off to. It looked good but, fortunately, we sent it to the EOR for approval. We did not catch that there were two types of relief angles being used. While they looked the same, they were embedded differently, and one type did not meet the pull out (tensile) requirements of the wall ties.

If power lines are to be deenergized, we require written notification from the utility company of the dates that they will be de-energized and when the power will be turned back on. Thank goodness, no one was hurt when we found out you cannot rely on secondhand sources for this.

A material hoist can be a tremendous tool for increasing production and decreasing labor. The ROI on hoist rental can be accomplished in the first day or two instead of running the scaffold down and loading it up (you’re not working when the scaffold is being raised and lowered), manually loading material through the building (labor!!) or trying to use a forklift where there is not enough room. We use hoists on more jobs 40’ and under because there is just not enough room for a forklift.

I could go on and on; tearing scaffold down on a restoration job at the University of Auburn because no one checked the compaction of the ground, and we were unaware that the ground had been dug up multiple times for waterproofing and had not been compacted when put back, canopies in the way on other jobs, etc. Safety issues are also huge production killers. Not having the correct corner bracket, guardrail or falling object protection can shut a scaffold down, and rightfully so. Sigh, experience is a great teacher.

We have developed a fill-in-the-blank scaffold plan to assist our customers and ourselves. Most manufacturers have similar documents. It can be difficult for people to buy into the importance of activities that do not directly relate to the work done. “To truly transform on-site execution, owners must implement change across all three aspects of a project: management systems, technical systems, and MIND-SETS (emphasis added)” (Improving construction productivity by Filipe BarbosaJan Mischke, and Matthew Parsons)

In an era where there are so many obstacles to productivity in construction, a properly used Job Site Plan can be a powerful tool for starting a job well and finishing it on time and in budget (or better!).

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