Causes of Unplanned Downtime on the Jobsite

Planned VS Unplanned

Downtime in any industry can be extremely costly, wasting both time and money, and can result from a number of factors both in and out of your control. Downtime can be either planned (intentional and necessary) or unplanned (unintentional). Planned downtime is anticipated and should be factored into timelines, budgets, and planning. This is typically routine maintenance or servicing of your equipment. These are occurrences that are pre-arranged and willingly initiated. Unplanned downtime is usually a result of something out of your control. Though unpredictable,  unplanned downtime in the general sense should also be accounted for in estimates and plans.

Just as its name suggests, unplanned downtime is unintentional and unexpected. As a result, it is important to leave a cushion in your budget and timeline in order to compensate for these delays. Budgetary and timeline compensations depend on the size and scope of the project, but can be assumed to increase in tandem. As complexity increases, complications don’t increase linearly, but rather as a function of the number of moving parts. This means larger projects will have significantly more chances for something to go wrong. states that the typical budget for unforeseen costs (called your “contingency fund”) is between 3% to 10% of your total budget.

In construction especially, downtime can have compounding effects. One hindrance may have rippling effects felt throughout the jobsite. For this reason, it is essential to plan for interruptions in your estimates, as both time and money can add up as work slows down.

In this post, we will discuss the causes of unplanned downtime and a few tips for minimizing construction downtime.

Causes of Unplanned Downtime

A 2004 study by Engineering Construction & Management (ECM) concluded that the most common causes of construction downtime were a result of several categories of factors. These categories include:

Equipment-Related Factors:

Equipment-related factors are among the most common, but also most preventable issues on a jobsite. ECM defines these factors that are related to the equipment’s “age, type, quality, complexity of operation, and degree of usage.” ECM also states that “the risk of equipment breakdown is related to the complexity and sophistication of the mechanical and hydraulic system” of a piece of equipment. When your downtime is related to a machine malfunction, there is an opportunity cost and a repair cost. The opportunity cost includes the work that is unable to be completed during the time lost, while the repair cost includes the financial liability required to solve the issue. Machine downtime specifically can have compounding effects, as some tasks can’t be completed until the one before is finished. In this way, one machine going down can slow the entire jobsite down.

Using the right tool for the job can help mitigate some of these issues, as well as routine maintenance to pre-empt mechanical problems. Planned downtime serves to minimize unplanned downtime for related factors. It is easier to replace a part before it breaks or wears out than after, which could happen at the most inconvenient times. Preventing equipment-related issues also includes being knowledgeable regarding the equipment you are using. Proper operating conditions and procedures can help prevent a number of problems. Consider the jobsite and what can most effectively be used for the job.

Site-Related Factors:

Site-related factors concern the environment of the jobsite. ECM defines these as “poor working conditions, uncertainties during equipment operation, and location of the site”. The terrain of the jobsite can have significant impacts on the performance and deterioration of the equipment used. The location of the jobsite also determines the length of time required to service machinery or acquire replacement parts. Jobs in more remote areas can lead to increased wear combined with slowed repairs, resulting in extended downtimes.

Jobsite location can also determine what equipment can feasibly be used. Using machinery in improper conditions can also lead to unexpected malfunctions. For these reasons, it is important to familiarize yourself with the environment and location in which you will be working in order to plan accordingly. Thoughtful preparation can help to prevent many of the woes resulting from unplanned downtime.

Crew-Level Factors:

Crew-level factors are the human element involved in the operation and maintenance of heavy equipment. While the market for driverless construction equipment continues to grow, there is still a strong demand for human operators. Many industries have faced labor shortages in recent years for a variety of reasons, and the construction industry is not immune. ECM states that “skill level of operators & mechanics, fatigue, morale, and motivation” all factor into successful and safe operation of machinery. The most important of which is skill, as efficiency and performance can have a direct financial impact.

Misuse and negligence can result in unplanned downtime. Sufficient raining and effective management should help to prevent most operator-related errors. An experienced crew and foreman will be less likely to experience issues: the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 60% of construction accidents occur within an employee’s first year of work. Proper operation goes beyond just preserving your equipment. OSHA indicates that the top four causes of construction fatalities on a construction jobsite are falls, struck-by’s, caught-in/between’s, and electrocutions. Awareness of the risks that are present on a jobsite can help you better protect your crew and equipment.

Force Majeure

French for “greater force”, force majeure is used to indicate any number of factors that are out of your control. Also called “acts of God”, these events include significant weather and other natural events, as well as unforeseen third party interactions such as theft or vandalism. While these events are ultimately out of your control, necessary precautions should still be taken. Knowledge of weather patterns and effective jobsite security can decrease the likelihood of downtime as a result. Equipment will need proper temperature regulation and the capability to operate in the resulting conditions of extreme weather. Avoiding these issues is all about preparation.

Company Procedure & Policies

The response to a problem is often times more important than the problem itself. Maintenance policies, replacement decisions, inventory management & control, standby repair & maintenance facilities, and procurement systems are all examples of management policies that can affect the length of unplanned downtime. It is essential to have equipment management policies that are conscious of both time and money; ECM states that “the equipment policies of a construction firm reflect the priorities set by top management and carry significance in terms of resource allocation and strategic planning”. While having an established operating procedures and supply lines is helpful in completing your current job, it can also lead to other contracts. A properly maintained fleet can be of great strategic importance and can help win more bids. 

Project-Level Factors

Project-level factors, according to ECM, include “the availability of spare parts, resources, and rental facilities, substitute equipment on hand, the location and sophistication of a workshop, and other projectspecific requirements.” These are quite similar to the site-related factors mentioned earlier, but can also include project-specific factors, such as specifications for equipment usage or other operational directions in the contract. Being aware of the unique constraints of each job and preparing accordingly can help minimize your downtime and increase efficiency on the jobsite. 

Heavy Equipment Maintenance and Iron Wing Sales

Iron Wing Sales is there to help you minimize your downtime. Replace worn parts or stock up on spares with our large inventory of OEM and aftermarket Heavy Equipment parts, including thousands of hard-to-find parts! Our inventory is in-stock and ready-ship, so as soon as your order is placed we will work on getting it shipped out.  Simply browse by category, or you can use our search function to sort by description, part number, or manufacturer. We also offer free shipping on qualifying orders >$100. Additional inquiries, contact us by email: or by phone:(216) 912-9089

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