- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 02 Jan 2018
Types of risk in construction projects
Taking a risk involves a hazard combined with volition or will. Different types of building contract will allocate risk in different quarters. Even if a contract is silent on a particular risk, that risk will still lie with one party or the other.
Wherever risk is shifted from the contractor to the owner, there should be a counterbalancing advantage of price to balance the risk assumed by the owner, and vice versa. Any discussion about whether or not a particular risk should be included in the price is a discussion of policy, not of ‘fairness’, ‘morality’ or ‘justice’.
 Types of risk in construction projects
The first category of risk is often referred to as 'pure and particular risk'. It includes damage to persons and property (such as fire, storm, water, collapse, subsidence, vibration, etc.). Contract conditions often make it a contractual obligation to take out insurance cover against these risks.
The second category is 'fundamental risk'. This includes external factors such as: damage due to war, nuclear pollution and supersonic bangs; government policy on taxes, labour, safety or other laws; malicious damage; and industrial disputes. Such incidents are all the subject of statutory liability and no insurance cover is normally available or needed.
The third category, often referred to as 'speculative risk', is something which can be apportioned in advance as decided by the parties to the contract. This may include losses in time and money, which result from unexpected ground conditions, exceptionally adverse weather, unforeseeable shortages of labour or materials, and other similar matters beyond the control of the contractor.
There are also risks of losses of time and money due to: delays and disputes (possession of site, late supply of information, inefficient execution of work, etc.); poor direction, supervision or communication; delays in payment; and delay in resolving disputes.
See Risk in building design and construction for more information.
- Identify the risk: linked to a clear statement of the client’s priorities for a project.
- Analyse the risk: in terms of likely frequency of occurrence and severity of impact.
- Respond to the risk: make risks explicit so that decisions can be taken as to who should bear them.
NB: Generally, risk is best allocated to the party best prepared for managing them.
- Contractual clauses are intended to transfer risks.
- When laying-off risks, weigh up the frequency of occurrence against the level of premium paid for the transfer.
- It can be unwise to pass a risk that is difficult to assess to the contractor as they may either increase their prices, or disregard it when preparing their bid and then find they are in difficulty later.
- The client may carry highly unpredictable and poorly defined risks as the alternative might be to unacceptably inflate tenders.
- Redefine the project.
- Clarification of responsibilities, remuneration, and expenditure at the beginning of the project will help avoid problems.
- Most standard form contracts insist on certain types of insurance, such as; insurance against fire, professional indemnity insurance, and so on.
- Either none of the project team considers the risk, or they consider the risk and decided that they already lie with those who could best control them.
- Fixed price: items paid for based on the contractor’s predetermined estimate
- Cost reimbursement: items paid for based on what the contractor spends in executing the work.
There is a single point of responsibility with the contractor for both the design of the project and operations on site. As such, most of the risk lies with the contractor, particularly where the contract is let on a lump sum basis. However, risk is increasingly transferred back to the employer as more preparatory design work is carried out before the contract is let.
With traditional lump-sum contracts, the intention is that there should be a fair balance of risk between the parties. The employer is responsible for the design and the contractor for the operations on site (although this is complicated when nominated sub-contractors and suppliers are included).
The balance can be adjusted as required, but the greater the risk assigned to the contractor, the higher the tender figure is likely to be. The risk to the employer is lessened by the contract being let on a lump-sum basis, although in reality, no price is 'fixed'. See fixed price contract for more information.
In management contracting the balance of risk lies with the employer. Separate works contracts are let, and the employer may continue to develop the design during construction, hence there may be little certainty about cost or time. However, the risk of delays and defects are associated with the responsibility for the works contract. In some cases the management contractor may absorb this risk and with a resulting increase in price, although this may compromise their 'impartiality'.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
Guidance for local authorities and consultancies setting planning conditions.
A real deal – at last?
How does anastylosis help in the reconstructing of ancient monuments?
More than just aesthetic and historic values and meanings.
An exciting and novel collaboration between the RIBA and the SPAB.
Republic of Ireland updates to planning and development.
The different types of pile foundation.
Achieving a net-zero carbon UK by 2050.
Responding to an invitation to tender.
Statutory instruments laid in Parliament to amend the Climate Change Act.
How will we pay for infrastructure post-Brexit after EIB has gone?