Waste in Yemeni construction projects [Archives:2008/1118/Reportage]

January 7 2008

Dr. Basil Sultan
Sana'a University
Faculty of Engineering, Civil Engineering Dept.
[email protected]

The construction industry is one of the most important components in any developing nation's economic development, being a major contributor to the national economy and providing employment opportunities. For this reason, construction projects should be an important priority in Yemen's national development.

Key statistics on Yemen and its construction industry reveal that while the industry employed approximately 6.6 percent of the nation's total workforce in 2000, the value added by such construction was only 4.2 percent.

As a developing nation, some serious problems within Yemen's construction industry are inefficiency in using materials, unfair competition, limited funding, planning uncertainties, unclear practices, lack of management and supervision, a shortage of high levels of skilled labor and lack of human resources development.

Over the past three decades, Yemen's construction industry has experienced chronic problems such as low productivity, increased waste and insufficient quality. Waste can significantly affect the performance of construction projects. Construction performance also may affect productivity across all economic sectors.

Previous research conducted by this author has concerned the high levels of construction waste and costs within Yemen's construction industry. Industry practitioners and engineers routinely report numerous wasteful activities in the construction process, the majority of which consume capital, time and effort without adding value to the client or the project. Likewise, waste significantly can affect business performance and the productivity of contracting firms.

Despite this, no research has been conducted in Yemen on the incidence of waste within the construction industry. If any was done, such research would be concerned only with on-site waste materials. Further, no attempts have been made to identify, evaluate or quantify the frequency or amount of construction waste in Yemen.

Construction waste

Project managers and engineers typically describe waste as physical rather than its true meaning. What the Yemeni construction industry now needs is a better understanding of that concept, as well as identifying such waste variables and their causes. These waste factors may assist project managers and engineers in discovering alternative ways to increase their projects' performance.

Waste can include mistakes, working nonsequentially, redundant activity or movement, premature or delayed inputs and products or services not meeting customer needs. According to the new philosophy regarding production, waste should be understood as any inefficiency resulting in the use of equipment, materials, labor or capital in larger quantities than those considered necessary for construction.

The term non-value adding activity is used to differentiate on-site physical waste from other waste occurring during construction, as waste involves several available definitions.

Waste includes both material losses, as well as unnecessary work that generates additional costs, but adds no value to the product. Moreover, some researchers maintain that manufacturing and construction waste include time delays, quality costs, lack of safety, redone work, unnecessary transportation, long distances, improper choice of management, methods or equipment and poor construction.

For these reasons, waste should be defined as any loss produced by activities that generate direct or indirect costs, but add no value to the product, according to the client's viewpoint.

In some developing countries, construction projects experience waste concerning wait time, idle time and travel time. Employing an excessive number of unskilled laborers or more laborers than necessary, especially unqualified laborers, is another waste-related problem.

Other developing nations identify lack of materials or equipment, repaired or redone work and supervision delays as factors affecting productivity within the construction industry. A previous study conducted by this author affirmed that construction supervision is one of the main areas of waste in Yemeni construction projects.

Variables related to wasteful activities identified by a review of the literature are those that contribute to a reduction in the value of construction productivity, while waste-causing factors are those that produce or generate waste.

The most significant waste variables in Yemen are:

– on-site waste of raw materials

– schedule delays

– repairs to structural work

– repairs to framework

– repairs to finishing work

– delays in procuring and delivering materials

Furthermore, Yemen's most significant waste-causing factors are:

– lack of supervision

– unclear blue prints and specifications

– poor design

– design changes

– poor or lack of contractual documentation

– poor or lack of planning and scheduling

– materials mishandling

– incompetent steel reinforcement fabrication

– slow tradesmen and stone craftsmen

– inappropriate construction methods

– slow decision making

– lack of traders' skill

– delays of materials delivery to the site

– payment delays and disputes

Given the construction industry's current lack of project schedules, workers tend to take construction time for granted. Schedule delays can be one of the most important variables affecting Yemeni construction projects, with such delays in project completion always resulting in costly disputes and hostile relationships among all involved parties.

Delays can be a major factor in high construction costs. The main factors causing delays are slow or ineffective tradesmen, poor planning and scheduling, delayed payment, design changes and slow decision making.

Because repair can be defined as any activity that must be redone or altered, it includes variations occurring at any time within any construction activity. Lack of skilled workers, unclear plan sketches and specifications and lack of supervision all can lead to repairing or redoing structural or finishing works.

The main reason for Yemen's lack of skilled laborers is that they are self-employed, often being rural farmers.

Construction managers and engineers in Yemen often fail to identify or address waste within the construction process. One reason such waste isn't recognized adequately is the existence of unclear standards and practices, weak project documentation, inadequate planning in a project's early stages and most of all, lack of appropriate tools to measure such waste.

To conclude, all construction project participants should direct urgent national attention toward these waste issues. Hopefully, this will lead to minimizing waste and increasing productivity in Yemen's construction activities.

Contractors should be more aware of waste and its causes, using local materials and natural resources as much and as efficiently as possible in order to minimize the negative impacts of waste and non-value adding activities, while reducing the costs of such waste.