tagHow ToHard Hats Ch. 03

Hard Hats Ch. 03


Let's take a look at fleshing out that construction site where your fictional worker is going to be spending so much of his day. Again I'm writing this as if you are the worker.

How does it all work?

Well, flip that bucket over and have a seat and I'll try and explain it as we take lunch.

Okay, well to begin with there is a owner. You will probably never see this person till the job is nearly finished. He will show up and do a tour like he's walking through Disney land. You will just have to resist the urge to call the people walking with him the "Princesses"

Even if that's what the primadonnas are.

The drama queen(s) in question is the architect(s). They have been hired to oversee the work on the job and make sure it's done the way he, the owner wants it. They draw up a set of prints that show him what they intend to sell to him at the final. This set of prints is meant to be the be all and end all of what needs to happen. But it can't be.

You see you can't put that much detail in one set of prints. There will be in fact probably a dozen sets. There are field drawing, shop drawing, engineering drawing, wiring drawing, structural... and on and on. They will also have to be updated through out the job.

Now the architects hire a General Contractor. The GC is there to coordinate the Sub Contractors. Now the subs are the ones that will do the work right? Not always. You see the sub may "sub-out"some part of his work and oversee that subcontractor as if he was a general contractor.

Confusing? You bet it can be. And the bigger the job the more subcontractors and subs of subs there will be.

Okay, back to the GC and how he gets paid. The architects have a set amount that the owner is wanting to spend (give or take a few million.) Now they get their profit by "bidding out the job" to the GC willing to do the job the cheapest. They show the prints to a few dozen GC and git bids. It's like Name That Tune.

"I can do that job for X amount."

"Well, I can do it for a million less than you!"

"Have fun."

And we are off and running. Now in exactly the same way the GC will hire their Subcontractors. They show them the prints and a... well in my companies case he's calls a Project Manager... bids on the job.

Enough with all of this paper shuffling lets break some ground already.

The site has to be prepped for the job, that means either flattened, excavated, or compacted to the point it will support the structure being built. This varies by the location of the site. A really big building will have to be excavated down to bedrock to get that support rating.

Alright the big trucks are rolling, dirt is being hauled out and gravel in, they set up a tower crane or not and finally after about four months the first of the subcontractors is told they can show up. This is mostly steel workers, concrete workers and masons.

And they will all be told that they are three months behind.


Yep. You see there is a schedule. This is a mythical piece of paper agreed upon, by all the people involved that wont lift a finger on the job, to be when the job should be done. It is said to take in things like rain delays and delays in grading the site, permit delays and other mitigating factors, but I have never see those happen.

Every job starts two to three months behind.

Now here is where it gets fun. The Owner will at some point have asked the architects how much would it cost to get done quicker? The job should take a year... he wants it done in six months. He's willing to pay extra for that. (By the way our government does this more than any other owner. Your tax dollars at work.) The architects give him a number. He agrees to pay that extra money if they get it done faster.

The GC will get a large part of that extra money if they can bring the job in on this new "FastTrack" schedule.

So... your three months behind. Get to work.

Now lets look at the biggest delaying factor in a construction site. Weather.

Up to this point the only thing that all of the above will mean to your average construction worker is that he is going to be pushed by his boss. His boss wants his share of that "FastTrack" money as well. To your common hard hat most of the shit happening above his pay grade is nothing but a pain in his butt.

But the weather? Now that is his personal hell. You see they don't want to hear that the job was delayed because it rained, or because it was too cold, certainly not because it was too hot! There is no such thing as a "Too Hot" day to work.

Lets follow the normal yearly progression and begin with Spring. Remember the joys of Spring? Cool mornings, warm afternoon, spring rains. Let put that into construction worker terms. It's fucking cold as hell in the morning, you have to scrap frost from your car's windshield and remember to dress warm. Then you will have to shed those layers as the day goes by. Then just as you're getting comfortable it will come a quick rain shower. (or maybe snow if you are further north)

The job site will be a mud hole for months. Because they compacted it when they graded it you wont sink up to your knees but your boots will be covered in mud all the time. Also, unless you bought a new pair with your tax return your boots have been all the way through Winter and will be leaking.

Your personal problems, like wet feet, are not important though. This is the time of year when you can really get some work done. On those days when the weather is nice the push is on. Soon it will be getting hot and the heat takes your energy. Your boss will be on your back to get more done every day. Expect this. Your foreman is going to push you because he is being pushed from higher up.

Oh yeah, the Foreman. Don't take anything he says personally. He's probably a nice guy. In fact he was most likely was doing the same job you are doing just a few years ago. He is just under a lot of strain. He is being hounded by the higher ups all day to get more production, to make up that three months the job is late.

Here comes Hell... I mean Summer.

Listen to me when I tell you this. You. Can. Die. Out. Here. From. The. Heat.

The GC requires you to wear, leather boots (often steel toe), T-shirts with sleeves to the elbow in high visibility color, Long pants (blue jeans or khaki), a yellow nylon safety vest, and that damn hard hat. If you stood still you would be sweating buckets.

You need water, and a lot of it to survive the day. Take a drink before you are thirsty. If you are feeling thirsty it's already too late. You're also loosing salts and minerals in your sweat. Think about the Gatorade commercials. Electrolytes. The funny thing is Gatorade isn't the best thing for you. You should be drinking Pedialyte. It tastes terrible but really helps. If you feel yourself craving salty things you're getting into trouble with your salt balances. Your body will tell you what you need if you listen to it.

There are often storms in the Summer afternoons but they don't really shut down work too often, unless there is lightning. Lightning and construction do not work. It pops lightning you stop what you are doing and get some where safe, I don't care who says what. You can get another job, you can't get another you. Anyway, all that storm will do is drive up the humidity. That makes the heat feel worse but keeps you soaked in sweat which helps to cool you off.

You will look like you fell into a river but try not to ring too much water out your T-shirt. Unless you are a woman with no bra and big breast no one on site will care that your shirt is wet because they fell out the same boat. It's miserable but you need that wet shirt to keep cool.

Also try and eat what you can early. You wont be able to eat at lunch. Try to put something on your stomach at lunch, crackers maybe. The salt helps too. Avoid like the plague all dairy products. I know an icy cold milkshake sounds like the best thing in the world but I promise you if you drink one you will get to taste it twice. And it wont taste as good the second time.

At this time of year your boss will be asking for you to work late. You need all the rest you can get and he wants you to do nine or ten hour days. You can't say no is the problem. This is when you get your part of that "FastTrack" money. Just drink plenty of fluids and survive, that's all you can do. As the sailors use to say when a strong wind was coming "Hold Fast"

Now Fall.

Summer into Fall is like the end of a roller coaster ride. You feel everything just kind of level out and you wonder if there might not be just one last curve to get through, but then you pull into the station and it's over. Suddenly it's Fall and the hell you went through has finally given way.

You will still sweat buckets when you drink, because your body hasn't gotten the message yet, but you can ease back on that gallon plus of liquids a day. That first cool day is like your first kiss. It's wonderful even if it sucks. This (well for me) is about the best time of year to work. You should also be trying to catch everything up at home bill wise, hopefully you didn't blow all that overtime money you got. Not too much to say about Fall weather, just enjoy it and try and get back some of that energy that the Summer heat took away. Because as house Stark says.

Winter is coming.

Forgive me I had to. Lol.

Somewhere in mid Fall, Winter will just sneak up and slap the hell out of you one morning. You will be expecting a normal day and that is not what you will get. A wind so damn cold it cuts you to the bone will come blowing in and you will suddenly remember that you need to replace your flannel shirts from last year. The boots you're wearing are too thin as well. You got them for Summer. So on the end of that first cold day you will rush to Walmart to get your winter clothes.

They have shorts and tank tops on sale. Of course.

In Winter you have to dress in layers. Lets start at the bottom and work up. Heavy insulated boots, thick socks. Try not to wear two pair of thin socks, that crowds your feet in your boots and doesn't let them move. They will feel colder in fact, than if you had on one pair. Now here is where you get to make a few different choices

. Long underwear, or sweat pants. I prefer sweat pants as they very quickly feel like they are part of your bluejeans and aren't so tight, but it's your choice.

You have to pick one as the cold winter wind will be cutting through your pants like a knife in just a few weeks time.

Now you could choose a full body thermal suit. Those are popular, but I find myself sweating in them which is a very bad thing. They zip up over your regular clothes.

If you choice to not wear one you will then come to layering up your chest. Your "CORE" This is where you give off the most body heat and where you need to trap it the most to stay really warm.

T-shirt close to the skin. You could wear a long underwear top, but I find they bunch up and leave my stomach feeling cold. Then a flannel shirt, then a thin hooded sweat shirt, then a jacket. Why all of this? You will look like Ralphy's little brother from a Christmas story!

Layers. You can open and close them as the temperature changes through out the day. Open up the coat once you get to working and are warm, then maybe zip it back as you take break, or lunch hold in that heat. If it warms up enough you can shed a layer or two. You can't do that so easily with the big thermal suits.

For your head do what the GC will allow. Some do not want you to wear anything under your hard hat. That thin hood on that sweat shirt is a minimum.

Now it is going to get cold as the frozen levels of hell. Depending on your trade you maybe able to work in those temperatures or not. Some trades all but shut down. You will miss work either way as the job will often be a mess of ice. Now further north they are better equipped to deal with this than where I am from. So up there things will be different. Ask a local construction worker about how they cope wit the cold. Research. I know they use a lot of heated tenting and big pipe heaters.

Well, there is your weather year on a job site.

All in all, the weather will play the biggest factor in getting that job finished on time, but it's not the only thing. When each Subcontractor finishes up his part of the job they will begin to pull off. Now things should be run like clock work but they are not. A lot of times what happens is something will get finished but what's next to it is still about halfway done. The finished product can get damaged. So the subcontractor has to send someone out to repair what got messed up. He then may damage what damaged his work. It's a nightmare that could be prevented by a true work schedule and not that mythical one that is being used.

Okay now, the job is just about finished. The architects will start to make appearances more often now. They are walking around looking for things that are not on their pieces of paper. They look for little nit picking things that should and would have been caught by the subcontractor if the job hadn't been done on that "FastTrack" schedule. (are you getting the idea that I don't like the FastTrack crap? Yeah.) All of these little things go on what is called a punch list. That list is sent to the subcontractor's Project Manager (remember him from the bidding at the start of the job?) He looks through this punch list, decided what is actually his companies to fix and he gets the Project Supervisor to send someone out there to deal with these items.

Project Supervisor? He is kind of like a foreman to the foremen. He's the one that decided what job gets worked by who. He is over just about everyone in the field and a few people in the office. Including that Project Manager. He sends someone out to fix the punch list items (That is what I do for a living by the way) on all the jobs he is overseeing. Which will be generally all of the jobs that his company has. A few very big companies have more than one Project Supervisor. Not many but a few.

Anyway back to the punch list. The Subcontractor will do one, GC will do one, the architects will do one. Each will find something different that needs fixing. Not all will agree on just who is responsible for the repair, but in the end everything gets fixed.

So all the punch list are done (Yes, I've been busy) and the owner does his walk through with the architects and the GC's top people. He is happy and the GC wraps everything up, turns it all over to the architects and the architects hand the owner the final bill (well it's more complicated than that but I'm not going into it, it's way beyond my pay grade)

The owner pays the architects. Amount in full. They then (and this is the fun part) hold about 20 percent of the GC's payment for a year, just to make sure that nothing comes up that needs to be taken care of. That held payment trickles down through all those Subcontractors as well. The money will be held in a bank account, for that year,and the architect will get to draw interest off it.

If that seems right to you let me know please.

So the year goes by and the owner will have no doubt found a few things he wants taken care of. The architects tell the GC, who tells the Subcontractor's Project Manager, who alerts the Project Supervisor, who tells the guy who will do the work to go fix it. So the punch list guy (waves hand) gets sent back out there to fix the items on this new final punch list, but now he can make no mess what so ever as the building is occupied by the owner. So he has to work carefully, he (well, I) have to take it item by item, cleaning up after myself as I go, till I get this final punch list done.

Problem solved.

But... it is in the best financial interest for the architects to keep that money in their account. They don't want to give it up. Like Daffy duck hording the pearl. They will wrap their arms around it and come up with some reason to not pay what they own.

So the Subcontractor will have to have their company lawyers get involved to get that final money. This can take years. So most General contractors and Subcontractor have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars owed to them.

Often by the very architects who are asking them to come present a bid on their next job.

It's a hell of a profession.

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