Supervision for Subcontractors on the Job Site

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Welcome to the On Site channel’s Construction Administration Column. This column covers the question of adequate supervision for subcontractors on the job site. Here David A. Todd, P.E., CPESC, gives his opinion.

Columnist David A. Todd, P.E., CPESC, has 37 years of experience in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry and has performed much construction administration during that time. He will answer questions from our readers or from his own practice and will provide answers based on his understanding of the construction process and administration of the construction contract. The focus will be on the customary duties of the owner, contractor, and design professional as typically described in the contract documents.

Supervision for Subcontractors on the Job Site

The City has contacted us, as the general contractor on a street reconstruction and widening project, to let us know that they will be assigning a superintendent and that superintendent will be on the job site frequently. We are in the earthwork phase of the project, which is being done by a subcontractor. Work with our personnel won’t begin for several months. We’ve worked with this subcontractor before and trust him. I don’t see a need to assign a superintendent and put him on the job site until the time for our work draws closer and I know which of our superintendents is available.


Let me get this straight: You have a subcontractor working on the job site, and you aren’t watching him? And you don’t even have a superintendent assigned? Are you out of your mind?

I don’t care how much you trust this subcontractor, the construction business is far too risky for you not to have your own person watching the project. Because the work of this subcontractor spans several months, I assume you will be submitting pay applications for his work, with your mark-up added. Are you planning to just take the sub’s word for how much work has been done?

What happens if unforeseen site conditions are encountered, and the earthwork expands beyond the intended limits? What happens if the sub isn’t following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) safety practices and someone gets hurt, either his personnel or the public? What happens if the City asks the sub to do some extra work as a “favor,” and he does it and bills for it and then the City refuses to pay because there’s no written documentation? What happens if the construction observer asks for unreasonable rework or rejects work that in reality is acceptable? All of these things can be headed off and handled properly by your assigned superintendent.

Besides this, I’m sure that the contract you signed and the Contract Documents that govern the work require you to have a superintendent assigned to the job and on site. Concerning a superintendent, the Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee (EJCDC) General Conditions read:

“Contractor shall supervise, inspect, and direct the Work competently and efficiently, devoting such attention thereto and applying such skills and expertise as may be necessary to perform the Work in accordance with the Contract Documents. …At all times during the Work, Contractor shall assign a competent resident superintendent who shall not be replaced without written notice to Owner and Engineer…. The superintendent will be Contractor’s representative at the Site and shall have authority to act on behalf of Contractor.”

If the language in your Contract Documents is anything like this, the Owner is well within his rights to request you assign a superintendent and put him on the job.

The fact that you trust this subcontractor and have worked with him before may mean you can get by with fewer hours on the job by the superintendent. If the project is relatively small, which it sounds like it is, you might not even need a full-time superintendent. The superintendent you want to be on the site when you are doing your portion of the work may not be available right now, so you might have to assign someone else, someone who might even split time between two projects.

But, please, assign a superintendent right away. Have him or her visit the site from time to time and keep track of the progress of the work. Have him or her be proactive in fulfilling all the Contractor’s responsibilities as required by the Contract documents. If all goes well, you may find yourself wondering why you “wasted” the superintendent’s hours on the project. However, if things go badly and you don’t have an assigned superintendent, you will regret your attempt to save a few bucks by not making the assignment.

David A. Todd

A senior engineer and corporate trainer of engineering for CEI Engineering Associates, Inc. David has 36 years of experience as a consulting civil engineer. His experience includes water, wastewater, stormwater, roads, and solid waste infrastructure. For much of the last 20 years he has been involved with stormwater issues. Specifications and construction administration have been a specialty of his within civil consulting engineering . He has BS and MS degrees in Civil Engineering, is a registered engineer in four states, and a Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control.

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