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FIELD TIP - How To Survive and Prosper In The Erection Business

   Author: MetalMag

When asked by the publisher to write this column, I decided to deal with the legal aspects of the business in order to benefit experienced and newer erection companies, as well as general contractors. In the process I will refer to some techniques as they relate to liabilities.

This series of articles will reference information provided by the Manual of Steel Construction from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), and the 1996 Low Rise Building Systems Manual by the Metal Building Manufacturers Association. While some of you may not have these manuals, after reading these articles you’ll realize how the provisions included in them will guide you in protecting yourselves.

For future reference, I suggest you clip all the articles in the series and obtain copies of the manuals for your library. You should also incorporate the appropriate paragraphs into your contracts for your protection.

Keep a record
One of the most important things you can do as a construction owner is document, document, and document. Documentation provides you with a daily history of what occurred on a project. Quite often you might not be aware that you have a potential problem until several months after a project is complete. With good documentation, you have valuable information that can help prevent a lawsuit or even win one for you. Lawsuits are very time consuming and expensive. All of us strive to do good work. No matter the quality of your work you will be involved in a lawsuit at some point. The more work you do, the more lawsuits you will have. It’s a fact of life.

Daily logs help prevent lawsuits
Our company keeps daily diaries in ink in a bound book so that no one can accuse us of adding to the diary after the fact. If a problem occurs after a project is completed, we immediately mark all of the appropriate pages in the diary, copy them and put them into a loose-leaf binder. From this we generate a letter based on the entries in the diaries. We document every phone conversation. We state in the letter that the information is from our daily diaries and jobsite logbooks, which are considered legal documents.

By using this method, we have prevented hundreds of potential lawsuits. Sometimes it takes a week or more to fully document the situation, but the time spent is not as costly as a lawsuit. We maintain these diaries and logbooks for every job. This system has saved us from three lawsuits this year and kept our perfect record of never losing a lawsuit.

Support for back charges
This paperwork will also help you deal with manufacturers on back charges. In their zeal to maintain profit, manufacturers can become very hard to deal with. If a manufacturer treats its builders badly on back charges, the word spreads in our industry like wildfire and the manufacturer starts to lose its builder base. Not all manufacturers have this attitude, but sometime you may have to deal with one that does. We have found that documentation, photographs, videos, diaries, and logbooks all help you with back charges from manufacturers. Remember, document, document, and document.

Training programs are useful
If you want to learn more about the importance of paperwork and how to lead and succeed in this business, you can access The Construction Leadership Training Program on our website at: It will save you the price of the software on one project and improve your paperwork and bottom line on all projects.

You can also access training programs for erectors, OSHA and software for erectors and builders from this website. These computer-based, multi-media training programs are for construction managers, supervisors, foremen, and project managers. They are based on my experience in teaching Methods of Instruction and Leadership after graduating from the Army’s Command and General Staff College.

Using the manuals
In this series of articles, I refer to information from different industry manuals. I suggest you review the respective manuals along with my comments, interpretations and recommendations. This first article deals with pre-erection.

The site should be graded and compacted to be able to operate efficiently. This is common sense and both the AISC and MBMA Manuals require it for the metal building and the project.

The AISC Codebook states that the owner or his contractor will pay the erector for any of his time spent on preparing the site.

You should state in your proposal that it is according to the AISC and MBMA Codebooks. Remember, if you are not paid for this expense it will be a loss on your bottom line. You are entitled to be paid.

It is standard in our industry that we are provided a slab to unload and make up material on. It is also standard to have 20 ft. of clear space to operate equipment and store sheeting only, on all four sides of the building. MBMA’s Codebook and most manufacturers’ erection manuals call out 20 ft. around the building and describe unloading with a diagram that shows make up.

It is vital that you have an access area through the center of the building for erection equipment. You should incorporate this into your contract. Our company has incorporated it into our contracts with a provision for 25 ft. on all four sides.

The economies of a metal building come from better design, mass production, and ease of erection. The following excerpts from A Typical Manufacturer’s Erection Manual interspersed with my comments offer guidelines to ensure safety and efficiency in the erection of the building.

Pre-erection, access to the site
The vehicle transporting your building parts must gain access to the building site from the adjacent highway or road. Such access should be studied and prepared in advance of arrival. All obstructions, overhead and otherwise, must be removed and the access route graveled or planked if the soil will not sustain the heavy wheel loads.

Inspect to insure that there is enough room to physically perform the tasks required to erect the building. Application of sheeting and trim can be expensive when there is not sufficient working space because of the proximity of adjacent buildings or other obstructions.

The availability of any required utilities should also be considered in advance. Take careful note of any overhead electric lines or other utilities to avoid hazards and damage. Notify the utility company (ies) when necessary.

Develop a comprehensive safety awareness program in advance to familiarize the work force with the unique conditions of the site, and the building materials, along with the appropriate "Safe Work" practices that will be utilized.

The Safe Work plan is a mandatory requirement of OSHA. The fine for not having it is an automatic $7,000.00. Complete sets of erection drawings are furnished with every manufacturer’s building. Each plan is specially prepared for each individual building and should be strictly adhered to. You and your crew should become familiar with these drawings prior to start-up.

Unloading operations
Pre- planning of the unloading operations is an important part of the erection procedure. This involves careful, safe and orderly storage of all materials. Detailed planning is required at the job site where storage space is restricted. Here, a planned separation of materials in the order of the erection process is necessary to minimize the costly double handling of materials. While set procedures are not possible in all cases, special attention should be given to the following items. Manufacturers’ trucks are loaded to maximize efficiency and trailer weight and to insure safety. Unfortunately, manufacturers cannot load trucks according to the customer’s request.

Think SAFETY at all times

1. Location of carrier vehicle during unloading

Unload materials near their usage points to minimize lifting, travel and re-handling during building assembly.

2. Prepare necessary ramp for truck

The edges of the concrete slab should be protected to minimize the danger of chipping or cracking from truck traffic if the materials are to be laid out on the slab. One important safety consideration is the fact that materials stored on the slab may subject the workers to possible injury from falling objects.

3. Schedule lifting equipment (not done by manufacturer)

The type and size of lifting equipment is determined by the size of the building and the site conditions. Length of boom, capacity and maneuverability of lifting equipment will determine its location for both unloading and erection.

Use the same lifting equipment to unload and erect structural parts. Costs for lifting equipment are usually minimized by combining the unloading process with building erection. As soon as the truck is unloaded, the lifting equipment should start erecting the columns and raising the assembled rafters into position.

4. Consideration of overhead electric wires

Overhead power lines are a continuing source of danger. Extreme care must be used in locating and using lifting equipment to avoid contact with power lines.

5. Schedule crew

Depending on the crew size, valuable time can generally be gained if the supervisor plans and watches ahead instead of getting tied up with a particular unloading chore.

6. Check shipment

When shipments are received in the field, two inspections are necessary:

a. When items, boxes, crates, bundles or other large components are received and unloaded from the carrier, they should be checked off from the packing list.

If damages, or shortages of items are found during the inspection, a report should be filed with the carrier immediately at the site. When damages are evident from the exterior of containers, they should be opened and inspected thoroughly at the time of receiving shipments. Panel crates should be opened and inspected for water damage. Galvanized or Galvalume panel crates should always be opened and inspected for white or black rust.

b. When bundles, crates, cartons, boxes, etc. are opened following delivery, another check must be performed to determine the quantity received and its condition.

If during this inspection damages or shortages of items are found upon opening the crates or cartons, a written claim should be sent to the carrier no later than fourteen (14) days after delivery. If a shortage is discovered within a container, then a written notice should be mailed to the manufacturer at the same time the claim is sent to the carrier.

Unless these two important inspections are made and any reports or claims are filed immediately, settlements become very difficult and usually all parties suffer the loss.

Even when the manufacturers’ trucks are involved in the delivery, careful attention should be paid to the material and claims filed in the same timely manner.

When filing claims either with the carrier or the manufacturer, the claim should indicate the item(s) in question, the bundle or container in question (if any), the quantity that should have been received and the quantity actually received or received damaged. This is important for quickly retrieving the necessary information. Other information such as numbers, names and addresses of consignees and consignors as well as invoice numbers should be indicated on claims.

These procedures are primarily for your protection. A shortage discovered later can be the result of theft, misplacement or other causes for which neither the carrier nor manufacturer can accept responsibility.

Galvanized and Galvalume materials are susceptible to damage from prolonged periods of contact with moisture while stacked together. If there is evidence of moisture during unloading, the panels should be separated, dried and stored out of the weather to prevent permanent discoloration. Never install any material if its quality is in question.

Location of building parts
•Columns and rafters are usually unloaded near their respective installed positions on blocking on the slab, in position for easy makeup.

•End walls are usually laid out at each end of slab with the columns near respective anchor bolts. An access area through the center of the building should be left for erection equipment.

•Hardware packages should be located centrally, usually along one of the sidewalls near the center of the building. This will minimize walking distances to other parts of the slab area.

•Purlins and girts, depending on the number of bundles, are usually stored near the sidewalls clear of other packages or parts.

•Sheet packages are usually located along one or both sidewalls off the ground and sloping to one end to encourage drainage in case of rain.

•Accessories are usually unloaded on a corner of the slab or off the slab near one end of the building to keep them as much out of the way as possible from the active area during steel erection. Steps must be taken to protect the entire job site from vandalism and pilferage.

Unloading, handling and storing materials
As previously emphasized a great amount of time and trouble can be saved if the building parts are unloaded at the building site according to a pre-arranged plan.

Proper location and handling of components will eliminate unnecessary handling.

Inspect all shipments prior to releasing the tie-downs for loads that may have shifted during transit. Remember, safety first!

Blocking under the columns and rafters protects the splice plates and the slab from damage during the unloading process. It also facilitates the placing of slings or cables around the members for later lifting and allows members to be bolted together into sub-assemblies while on the ground. Extra care should always be exercised in the unloading operation to prevent injuries from handling the steel and to prevent damage to materials and the concrete slab.

If water is allowed to remain for extended periods in bundles of primed parts such as girls, purlins, etc., the pigment will fade and the paint will gradually soften reducing its bond to the steel. Therefore, upon receipt of a job, all bundles of primed parts should be stored at an angle to allow any trapped water to drain away and permit air circulation for drying. Puddles of water should not be allowed to collect and remain on columns or rafters for the same reason.

All primer should be touched up as required before erection!

Build relationships
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t make this comment. The relationship between a builder and a manufacturer is very important. Builders should associate themselves with one certified manufacturer and stay with them. This relationship is more important than any short-term profit that might be achieved.

Manufacturers should also realize that this relationship is a two-way street. If a manufacturer violates it, they will probably lose a valuable ally. Is it worth it for one building? The word gets around about manufacturers that do this, not only with the builders but also with other manufacturers. They then become the target for other manufacturers who will go after its builders.

Ken Palmer is owner of Palmer Building Systems Corporation and salespro software ltd, Huntington Beach, California. He has been active in the metal building business since 1965 and has served on the national board of the System Builders Association, including the office of president.

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