A Lamb Associates Limited

Common risks on civils contracts and how to address them


Civil engineering projects involve complex and challenging tasks that require careful planning, design, construction, and management. However, many risks can affect the successful delivery of these projects, such as design errors, unforeseen physical conditions, stakeholder changes, public objections, access agreements, environmental impacts, contractual disputes, and cost overruns. These risks can result in delays, defects, damage, injuries, claims, and losses for the project team and the client. I have identified below the most common risks on a civil engineering project and strategies of how to mitigate such matters.

 The Risks


On many civil engineering projects access to the site is a problem, for example quite often on the railways work must be done when the trains are not running which means nighttime working and premium costs. Another such example would be constructing a road or laying a pipeline through many farmers’ fields when access is only available on agreement with the farmer. Or the client delays access to the project site, so the contractor tendered program is delayed from the start of the project.

To mitigate such risks, it is wise to engage early with the other parties and ensure that a realistic robust programme is in place so that access does not become a problem. Quite often I see delays on the project happen and the contractor is behind the program, so will miss the access date agreement hence another access agreement must be put in place which results in further delays and additional costs. A wise Contractor would do well to anticipate such problems and have a plan b or c ready for such events. Having the planning support can assist with such program matters.

Ground Conditions

As soon as a spade is placed in the ground on a civils project unexpected events occur because of the ground conditions, such as the soil is not as described in the Contract geotechnical information, so additional costs are incurred with the disposal of soil in a different place than anticipated. Or an uncharted utility, man-made concrete, or a bomb, etc. is found, thus creating delays and additional costs in dealing with such matters.

 From a client’s perspective ensure that all the geotechnical information is up to date and correct, and that there are sufficient boreholes that cover the whole area of the project, it might cost more in the short term but saves on delays and costs later in the project. Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment with the Contractor and his specialist knowledge before the contract signing to identify potential delay factors. The contractor needs to ensure that there is sufficient float in his program for dealing with such unexpected matters. When an unexpected ground condition issue does occur, it is essential that open communication channels are maintained between all involved parties to resolve issues collaboratively. An onsite proactive quantity surveyor can assist in such matters.


Quite often on the civil engineering projects I have been involved with it is not clear in the Contract documentation who should deal with the various utilities especially if a diversion of the service needs to be organised. Several issues can arise and delay the project such as the organization of wayleaves, which party designs the diversion, who engages with the utilities, access issues, specialist welders being available, placing the order, etc.

Clients need to be clear about who is responsible for designing the diversion and engaging with the local utility agent in contract documentation and do not use words like “client responsible for procurement of utilities.” Good advice with dealing with utility diversions is to start early in the project with agent engagement and often the lead-in period for carrying out works can be 6 to 8 weeks. Ensure your legal team has closed out any wayleave issues before the project starts. Contractors need to allow sufficient float in the program if utilities are delayed, obviously having the best planning support is key to having a robust program and reducing any delays.


The design of a civil project is often the start of where the project goes wrong with issues such as unclear project requirements, conflicting design criteria, design optimization, and regulatory compliance. Quite often the design is rushed because of the client’s timescales which results in these incidents occurring more readily.

Clients should take care and allow sufficient time to complete a thorough design to mitigate any design errors happening later in the project timeline when changes on-site during construction are much more expensive.

Successfully navigating design issues in civil projects requires a proactive and collaborative approach that integrates technical expertise, stakeholder engagement, and risk management strategies. By addressing the common challenges such as unclear requirements, conflicting design criteria, inadequate site investigation, design optimization, and regulatory compliance, engineers can develop resilient and sustainable solutions. It also helps if all parties collaboratively deal with design issues so that further delays and costs are not incurred.

Labour Shortages

Civil engineering projects are regularly undertaken in remote areas of the country where key labour is in short supply. Also, some civil engineering mega projects may be so large i.e., HS2, Hinkley Point C that local labour supplies are drained. There may be elements of the project that require specialist work and there are only a limited number of specialists in the country e.g., railway signaling design thus this can create a shortage.

The Contractor being engaged must have mitigation plans for such labour shortages, for example, temporary accommodation for workers at Hinkley Point C has been constructed. The contractor also needs to make an allowance in his tender for paying a premium rate to entice workers to the project. Early engagement with all stakeholders, labour suppliers, and risk management plans is key to a project being successful. The identification of specialist work early in the contract can assist in mitigating any delays in procuring such activities. An onsite initiative-taking quantity surveyor can also assist in the management of the labour supplies.


Unexpected environmental issues can occur often on a civil engineering project, for example, contaminated soil, protected animal species, archaeological sites can delay projects. Many a project has been delayed because a protected animal such as a greater crested newt has been found on site and it is quite surprising how such an animal can affect a whole project. I have seen projects canceled because a protected species has been found. Also, projects are constructed on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) which bring other environmental issues.

Insuring a thorough environmental impact is undertaken at an early stage and protective measures are in place such as protective environmental fencing which assist in mitigating these issues. Conducting a comprehensive risk assessment with the contractor and his specialist knowledge before the contract signing will also assist in preventing delays and identifying environmental issues on-site at an early stage.

Conclusion & Takeaways

Civil contracts involve inherent risks that can affect project timelines, budgets, and safety. By identifying and addressing these risks early and proactively, stakeholders can minimize the negative impacts and increase the chances of successful project completion. Regular communication, comprehensive risk assessment, realistic planning, and strict adherence to safety protocols are essential to mitigate these risks effectively.

Ensuring the contractors’ program is robust and has a sufficient float to deal with unexpected matters.

Risk management is the process of analysing the potential outcomes of uncertainty on the project objectives and taking appropriate actions to reduce the negative effects and enhance the positive ones. Risk management can also help civil engineers to avoid or minimise failures, improve performance, ensure quality, comply with regulations, meet expectations, and achieve goals.

The risks can be mitigated by proactive site quantity surveyor presence, project planning support and pre-contract risk review which are services A Lamb Associates provide. Also, if contractors or specialist contractors find themselves in disputes over these types of risk, A Lamb Associates and our experienced dispute resolution team can assist, please contact us on 015242 73666.

Connect with Sean on LinkedIn.

We are actively recruiting. If you are interested in discussing opportunities to join ALA or are considering a career in Quantity Surveying, please email [email protected] or look at our Current Vacancies.

Want to find out more about ALA? Follow us on LinkedIn.