A multitude of things can go wrong on a project – supply chain availability, adverse ground conditions, inclement weather, delays with consents and approvals, costs increases, late delivery of supplies, defective materials, insolvency of the contractor or its suppliers, defective workmanship, defective design, industrial action, accidents on site – the list is endless.

It is impossible to eliminate all risk from a project. But the early identification and proper management of risk can significantly de-risk a project and secure the best opportunity for the effective delivery of a project in line with budgetary and programme constraints.

Identifying key risks at the outset of a project is paramount but the risk management process needs to adopt a holistic approach: it needs buy-in from everyone and should continue throughout the lifecycle of the project.

Some standard form building contracts contain helpful tools in managing project risk. The NEC 3 ECC contract, for example, contains a “Risk Register” to help the parties manage risk in a collaborative and farsighted manner.  The NEC sets out a minimum content for the Risk Register: it should describe the risk along with the actions needed to avoid or reduce it.  The idea is that by listing risks, they can be managed and avoided or minimised.  This requires a level of foresight before the contract commences, but risks that were not or could not have been foreseen may be added to the register at a later date. The Risk Register should be flexible.

Having contractual mechanisms in place for managing risk is not enough in itself though. The education and regular monitoring of the key members of the project team responsible for delivering the project is vital to ensure that they are able to either pre-empt risks or identify and manage risks before they escalate and become more costly. This involves briefing the project team on change management during the course of a project, proper reporting and record-keeping procedures and generally ensuring the project team are aligned with the employer’s approach and systems. This significantly reduces the risk of members of the project team breaching any contractual requirements. This in turn reduces the risk of formal claims and disputes on the project, limits any damage to working relationships and avoids unnecessary costs.

Successful risk management needs a pro-active, ongoing, consistent and holistic approach, drawing on technical, legal and practical resources from the start right through to the completion of a project.