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How much is rework costing your water business?

Rework during the construction process costs utilities more than time and money – research shows it also puts workers at risk.

According to a paper published in the Journal of Production Planning and Control, workers are 64% more likely to be injured while attending to rework than in the course of other duties.

One of the co-authors of the paper, Frontline Coach Director John Morrison, said the connection is clear: the poorer the quality of work, the higher the incident rate.

“We have just completed research on $22 billion worth of construction projects over an eight-and-a-half year period and found an indisputable link between rework and safety,” he said.

This research included a case study of the Barwon Water Alliance (BWA), a $375 million partnership tasked with delivering 129 water infrastructure projects over a 5-year period from 2009 to 2013.

About 90% of the work was delivered by contractors, including the construction of pipelines, treatment plants, pump stations, tanks, storages and channel works across the greater Geelong region in Victoria.

By 2011, most projects were delayed by about three weeks because of rework issues. This was costing the BWA more than $1 million, with an estimated cost of $17 million if the issue wasn’t addressed.

“They estimated half a day a week was being spent on rework fixing up things that weren’t done correctly in the first place,” Morrison said.

Despite the high rates of rework, no non-conformance reports (NCRs) – which detail work that fails to meet quality standards – had been recorded.

Morrison said this is because contractors didn’t feel comfortable reporting mistakes “in an industry where program and budget are kings”.

“There’s a mindset in construction that a bit of rework is just a normal part of business,” he said.

“Nobody wants to report bad news, so there is a strong temptation to hide mistakes or quickly fix them on the fly.”

Constructing a culture shift

This reluctance to report rework means it is often unplanned, poorly resourced and rushed, which leads to a higher incidence of injuries.

Once the problem was identified, Morrison and his co-author, Professor Peter Love from Curtin University, worked with the BWA for three years to study the impacts of rework and how it can be prevented.

This included helping the BWA introduce a rework prevention program. Alliance members and contractors were encouraged to share information, and the design and delivery teams began working more closely.

rework cartoon A reluctance to report rework means it is often unplanned, poorly resourced and rushed, which leads to a higher incidence of injuries.

“People quickly realised the benefits,” Morrison said.

“Less rework means less going over old ground, less frustration, contractors are happier and the overall team is happier.”

As a result, the average number of safety incidents and near misses decreased from eight per month before the rework prevention program, to five per month after the program. On-time delivery improved by 45%, project costs under-runs improved by 50% and staff satisfaction was up 20%.

What can water businesses do?

Although rework is not a problem specific to the water industry, Morrison said utilities do need to address the issue.

“Based on the research we’ve done, I’d bet water authorities have no idea that 20-30% of their incidents could be occurring during rework, but at the moment few water authorities are measuring it,” he said.

Morrison challenged water authorities to start identifying the safety incidents occurring during their rework periods.

He said leadership teams need to have honest conversations with their construction partners to find out if all rework is being reported and how well the rework is being planned.

“If we know how many injuries are occurring during rework we can then dispel the myth that a bit of rework doesn’t cost you,’ he said.

“It’s about creating a psychologically safe environment to talk about errors through compassionate, authentic leadership.

Leaders need to be prepared to listen, hear bad news and to support their teams to address it together.”

While the financial cost of rework is high, Morrison said safety should be the main motivation to improve.

“The cost factor is a nice bonus, but at the end of the day it’s about human life,” he said.

“People get injured at a much higher rate during rework than other work; there are no excuses not to manage it better.”

John Morrison is looking for more water utilities to get involved in research on the link between rework and safety. For more information, click here.

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