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September 6, 2012

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Project handover – Over to you

Managing the handover of a new or modified asset effectively is crucial in ensuring it is safe to operate and maintain, argues Nick Bell, who offers insights for practitioners involved in the handover process.

Most businesses will, at some point, use contractors to install new plant and equipment, or make modifications to existing plant, equipment and buildings. Some will need completely new premises to be constructed in order to fulfil their business goals.

A ‘handover’ comes at the end of the project to install, construct, or modify an asset. It usually involves the client formally accepting the asset, the work area, and relevant information from the contractor. (For the purpose of this article, the term ‘client’ includes construction clients and employers who are having plant and equipment installed, or modified.) The handover process should ensure that the client is confident their new asset is ready and safe for use and that they are able to operate, manage and maintain it.

Sometimes, clients are left with a seemingly random bundle of documents and a sense of confusion about how to operate, or maintain their new piece of equipment, or building. In the worst cases, assets with obvious and dangerous defects have been handed over to clients. However, there are some general principles that can help ensure the process runs smoothly.

Getting it right from the start

To make sure they have what they need at handover, clients should make their expectations clear at the outset of the project; this helps prevent confusion or contention later on. To clarify what those expectations are, clients should consider the four issues below and call on the assistance and input of their own operational and maintenance staff, who are likely to have a good understanding of what they need at handover:

  • What information and documentation should be available at handover (and what format this should be in);
  • How the client will gain assurance that the asset is operating as required and expected before accepting it;
  • What instruction or training should be given to whom on the operation or maintenance of the new asset;
  • Details of the required, or recommended maintenance regime.

Each of these points is expanded upon below. Larger, experienced clients may already have handover procedures and checklists, but these still need to be tailored to suit the project. As an example, construction clients (and their CDM coordinators) sometimes provide contractors with the generic list of contents for a health and safety file found in the Approved Code of Practice to the CDM Regulations 2007.

But not all of these items may be relevant – for example, asking for structural design information if the project was making no alterations to the structure of the building.

The contractor may assume that the whole list is irrelevant, or he might provide irrelevant information in response. Thus, it is far better for clients to clarify with contractors and designers what they expect.

Choosing the right contractors to be involved in the construction, installation, or modification of the asset will benefit the whole process enormously. As part of the selection process, the client could seek evidence that the contractors have managed handovers successfully before. For example, it could be a topic to discuss when talking to the nominated referees for a new contractor, or a client might ask to see a sample handover pack, or ‘operations and maintenance manual’ (O&M manual), that the contractor has produced.

When reviewing a contractor’s risk assessments, method statements and arrangements the client could check that contractors have method statements for their commissioning activities. Larger contractors may have a handover arrangement as part of their quality management system.

Tender and contract documentation should set out the client’s expectations and specify that a certain percentage of the contract sum will only be paid upon satisfactory completion of handover.  

Paper trail

The breadth of information required at handover can be significant and, for large, complex projects, may constitute literally hundreds of individual documents. Some may be included in O&M manuals, others in health and safety files (in the case of notifiable construction projects), or may be given entirely different names (‘handover packs’, ‘completion packs’, etc.)

The documents and information a client needs may already form part of their existing procedures for the management of plant, equipment and buildings. For example, a commercial landlord may have a property manual for each premises, which is structured in a particular manner. Similarly, an employer may hold specific information in a specific format for each piece of plant and equipment for which they are responsible.

Some construction clients like their health and safety files to form a section of an O&M manual, while others prefer them to be a completely separate suite of documents. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for handover information to be presented in a particular manner but this needs to be reflected in the tender and contract documents, so that the time and effort involved can be allowed for.

While it is beyond the scope of this article to list every single document that might be received, generated, or collated at handover, some common items are listed below:

  • Names and details of duty-holders involved with the project;
  • Designs, calculations and specifications;
  • ‘As installed’ or ‘as built’ drawings;
  • Manufacturer’s data sheets and declarations of conformity;
  • Operation and maintenance instructions;
  • Commissioning test results;
  • Records of inspections, or test witnessing;
  • Details of any training, or instruction delivered;
  • Written schemes of examination (e.g. for pressure systems or lifting equipment);
  • New or revised arrangements and risk assessments for using, maintaining, or managing the assets (e.g. relating to the management of legionella);
  • Maintenance details (see below);
  • Third-party approvals (e.g. fire officer, insurer, building control, etc.); and
  • Schedules of keys, tools and equipment to be passed over at handover.

Much of this information will be generated over the life of the project, so it can be helpful to develop an information schedule as early on as possible, to list what is needed, in what format, and which person or function is responsible for collating it. For example, some information (such as risk assessments and training records) may be generated and held by the client, with the rest being produced and collated by the contractor. Without this clarity, it is foreseeable that information will be missed, or lost.

It is sensible to use routine meetings to check the development of the handover documentation. Project-team meetings could include a standing item on ‘handover’, or there could be a series of specific meetings focusing on handover.

Rest assured

The ability of the client to verify that they are getting what they expect is a key element of the handover process. For low-risk, non-technical assets, such as new signage, or an access ramp, this might purely involve a visual inspection by the client to check that the asset meets the original design or specification, and that there are no obvious defects (such as loose handrails on a newly installed ramp).

For hazardous and complex assets, the project should have dates – or perhaps a detailed programme – for commissioning tests (including inspections and examinations) leading up to handover. Tests may be a statutory requirement – for example, under some circumstances, pre-operation examinations are required under regulation 6(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, regulation 9 of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998, and regulation 8 of the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000. L8 (the Approved Code of Practice relating to legionella) contains guidance for the commissioning or recommissioning of water systems.

Obviously, these activities would need to be conducted before handover: no client would want to take possession of an asset that promptly fails an examination and cannot be used.

The requirement and methodology for commissioning are sometimes found in British Standards (e.g. BS 5839, relating to fire detection and alarm systems and BS 7671, also known as ‘the Wiring Regulations’, which relate to electrical installations).

While many clients could not be expected to know all these details, it would be entirely reasonable for them to ask their contractors and designers what commissioning tests will be carried out, by whom, when, and to what standards (construction clients could also ask their CDM coordinators for advice). These details should form part of the overall method statement of the work. The results of these commissioning tests should then be included in the handover documentation.

Sometimes, as an extra level of assurance, commissioning tests will be witnessed by others. Building-control officers will typically ask to witness a number of key tests (e.g. drainage or damper slam tests), and designers may review the commissioning process as part of their service.

For example, the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers expects “an appropriate member of the design team to monitor commissioning and to ensure that this is carried out in line with current Building Regulations”.1 It would therefore be useful for a client to ascertain, ideally at the tender stage, what support designers will give to the handover process.

A client might already engage companies to undertake statutory tests (e.g. of lifting equipment or pressure systems) and these could be a further source of guidance, such as reviewing the written scheme of examinations for a new pressure system. Some commissioning tests could also be observed by a client’s operational and maintenance staff – for example, tests of a new production line that the staff will be using and maintaining.

Any witnessing activities should be recorded (name, date, time, defects noted, corrective actions identified, etc.) and these records should also form part of the overall documentation at handover. Photographs and CCTV surveys (particularly of hard-to-reach areas, such as new or refurbished ductwork), are useful ways of verifying and recording the location and condition of assets.

If these checks and tests show that an asset has significant defects, or it is not accompanied by the information required to demonstrate that it is safe to use and maintain, a client should not accept handover and should ensure that access to it remains restricted to the contractors.

Partial handover – where some but not all of the asset is handed over for use (e.g. part of a building) – needs to be managed carefully. As well as considering the interface with any ongoing work, clients must still have the same assurances and documentation to demonstrate that the part of the asset they are using is safe to occupy, use, or maintain.

Know-how

Once the new or modified asset has been handed over, relevant staff must be instructed in how to operate and maintain it. This might be as simple as a short demonstration on how to use a new lighting array, to formal training if a higher level of competence is required. This training could be delivered by the contractor (or specialist sub-contractor) who installed the asset; if so, the tender and contract documentation should specify this.

Maintenance

Almost all assets will need to be maintained in some manner – either in a planned, preventive manner, or reactively (for non-critical assets or components). Routine inspection and testing (e.g. fire detection systems) may also be required. Managing this can be extremely difficult if the details are spread through a large file. A much more useful approach is to collate that information into a maintenance schedule or log, listing the assets/components and detailing the frequency and nature of the maintenance tasks.

Alternatively, the handover process may simply involve updating existing maintenance and asset registers. These details should be broadly agreed at the design stage, however, as the client will need to ensure they have, or can develop, the competence and resources to maintain the asset.

Once the client is satisfied that they have the assurances and information needed to operate and maintain the asset, they will often be asked to sign a completion, or acceptance certificate. This will normally mark the end of the installation/ construction phase (apart from the completion of any minor defects). Before putting the asset into operation, risk assessments should be prepared or revised by the client, who, following handover, will have the primary liability if someone is harmed while using or operating it. Obviously, a well-managed handover can help reduce the likelihood of that happening.

Conclusion

Although handover is the last stage of the installation or construction project, it is the first stage of the much longer operational and maintenance phase. The process needs to be thought through very early in the life of the project; leaving handover to the last minute can only increase the likelihood of missing vital checks or information.
The handover process represents an incredibly small percentage of time when compared to the overall life of an asset. However, if managed effectively, the handover process will make a significant contribution to its safe and healthy – and cost-effective – operation.     

Reference
1    CIBSE: Commissioning, Handover and Feedback – http://sustain.cibse.org/ specific_issues/12

Nick Bell works as a risk consultant for Zurich Risk Engineering UK.

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