There will be times when troubles arise; such as when bad workmanship comes to light, or quite unsuitable methods are being used. It is the RE’s duty to have the work rectified or the unsuitable methods stopped. This is easy to say, but not so easy to carry out in practice. The first requirement is that bad workmanship ought to be discovered at the earliest possible stage. The second is to be careful when having to point out defective work. Accusations are out of place; most defective work occurs through mishap, lapse of control, or because someone has been set to do a job beyond his competence. Nor should the RE start his complaint with some provocative remark which causes resentment and an inevitable row.
Instead, the RE should ask the agent to view the defective work with him, indicating that he has concerns about its acceptability. When they meet to view the defect together, the wise RE will say nothing, but will allow the agent to examine the matter for himself. One of two things will happen now:
either the agent will make some admission of fault, or he will say, ‘What’s wrong with it then?’ If the agent admits a fault there is no doubt that with careful handling all can be made well; but if the agent asks why the RE has his objection, the RE must tell him clearly why, what would have been acceptable, and what might be done in the circumstances. This opens the door to possible remedies, and further discussion may make it possible to discover the remedy which is cheapest to adopt.
However, if no acceptable remedy can be agreed upon, it is best to leave the matter for the time being, so that both parties have more time to think about the problem. Leaving a decision over for a day or two is often a way of discovering the best answer to a problem.
There will be other occasions when the RE is not at all sure what he should do, such as when he has to decide whether or not he will accept some method proposed by the agent. The agent has to think up ways of doing things that are cheapest, using the men and machines he has got. He may therefore propose methods which come as a surprise to the RE, who has been schooled to think in terms of using the ‘right’ way for each particular job. The old style general foreman was fertile in thinking up unusual methods of construction that saved him trouble, and not short of explanations as to why no possible harm could result.
The reasonable RE will not wish to deprive the agent of opportunities for benefiting from his own skill; on the other hand, he must not allow chances to be taken which might cause damage or early deterioration of the works. If, therefore, he permits the agent to proceed on his proposed method he would be within his rights to forewarn the agent that, if any harm does result, then the contractor must make the harm good at his own expense. If there is not time to discuss the matter with the engineer, the RE should discuss the problem with his own staff, because it is always useful to take others’ opinions, and discussion can reveal important points that may have been missed.