Project manager Andrew Farrer extols the virtues of keeping a comprehensive works log – if only to provide valuable evidence in the event of a dispute

Not so long ago, all site supervisory staff maintained site diaries that were written up each day. They were a record of work carried out, resources on site, weather conditions, any unusual circumstances and notable events. But in the last 20 years, site diaries have declined from being almost universal to become a rare and endangered species. Should we mourn their passing?

In Building, on 16 July 2004, Tony Bingham discussed the continuing popularity of the global claim and posed the question: how can contemporary evidence be gathered to allow detailed cause and effect to be demonstrated in a claim? We cannot simply trawl back through events that occurred possibly a year or more ago to try to extract relevant facts and identify their effect on the works without detailed, contemporary records.

The only practical way to maintain such records is for the site supervisory staff to do the job. Any other system will involve additional staff (which adds cost to the job) who will probably only be on site on a visiting basis, so their records will not be comprehensive.

What is in a site diary? Well, in fact it is the whole recording process: a head count, probably by trade; plant on site and in use; weather conditions; work carried out in the day; and marked-up record drawings.

Generally a site engineer or foreman will also record events that he (or she) sees actually delaying the work in hand. If the operatives he is supervising are idle he will record the reason, be it lack of materials, lack of information or torrential rain. He is highly unlikely to record many of the spurious events that are dug out of the document trail a year later by specialists bent on proving that their client – be it contractor or employer – is blameless.

So why are site diaries on the endangered list? A major cause is the rise in specialist subcontractors, coupled with the increase in staff mobility, which has reduced the control that main contractors have over workforce supervision. It is practically impossible for a main contractor to demand comprehensive site records from the staff of a subcontract specialist. These subcontracts are let predominantly on price; overheads are pared to

Without contemporary site records, the claim and counterclaim will often be built up by specialist 'hired guns' who only arrive as the claim is being prepared

the bone. As a result of the rise in subcontracting, with each subcontractor providing its own management, a large main contractor team is rendered a costly and redundant luxury.

At the same time there is no great incentive for the contractor to maintain efficient records; it will increase his overheads and make him less competitive. Most contractors prefer to maintain their competitive tendering edge and brave the risks of having to negotiate a poorly presented claim if and when the need arises. Nobody wants to be seen looking to the claim at final account stage before the contract is even awarded.

So where does that leave the future of site diaries? They are an invaluable resource in the settlement of claims. Often a claim will be much easier to settle at an earlier stage with the assistance of a good set of site records. Without contemporary site records the claim and counterclaim will often be built up by specialist “hired guns” who only arrive as the claim is being prepared. The claim and counterclaim will often be seriously biased in favour of their respective clients. The events trawled from the past will often have little bearing on the events that actually impinged on site operations. Yet the industry continues to largely ignore the value of site diaries.

Clearly there has to be a positive incentive or compulsion to reinstate the site diary into the construction process. Is it too much of a stretch to see site records detailed in the specification; perhaps an item in the bill against which a price could be put; delivered weekly to the client’s representative? Why not go as far as the Society of Construction Law Protocol on Delay and Disruption does on programming, and have provision for withholding an element of all valuations until the records are provided?

Andrew Farrer is technical director of project manager, TLD Projects