Last edited 02 Jan 2018

Types of risk in construction projects

This article needs more work and should be combined with Risk in building design and construction.


[edit] Risk

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’.

[edit] 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.

[edit] Dealing with risk

  • 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.

[edit] Transfer of risk

  • 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.

[edit] Acceptance of risk

  • The client may carry highly unpredictable and poorly defined risks as the alternative might be to unacceptably inflate tenders.

[edit] Avoidance of risk

  • Redefine the project.
  • Clarification of responsibilities, remuneration, and expenditure at the beginning of the project will help avoid problems.

[edit] Insuring against risk

[edit] Doing nothing about risk

  • 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.

[edit] Allocating risk through methods of payment

[edit] Balance of risk for different forms of contract.

[edit] Design and build

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.

[edit] Traditional contract

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.

[edit] Management contracting

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'.

[edit] Find out more

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki


Great article about the risks that may come up during a construction project. We actually included a link to it on our blog post about the importance of free construction software in the industry. Feel free to check it out

It would be nice if the following were included:

Performance bonds

When working in the ground

H&S and Environment (including designing out risks)

Picking your team to minimise risk