How to Assess the Competence of your Fit-Out Contractor

Lewis Mills | 07 April 2022

So, you have a space that needs fitting out. Whilst it is always sensible to competitively tender a fit-out project to numerous contractors, how can you as the client assess the true complete competence of the contractors on the tender list? What questions do you need to ask? What information should you request?

Worry not – in this latest OBI Property blog, we’ll cover the main areas in which an efficient and competent fit out contractor should be up to speed and should have up to date documentation ready to show you.

1) Health & Safety

Key question: can the principal contractor act within the capacity of the CDM Regulations?

The Construction (Design and Management) (CDM) Regulations 2015 are in place to ensure health and safety is maintained throughout a project. The principal contractor is the key duty holder, required to ensure effective management of health and safety throughout the construction phase.

The main duty of the principal contractor is to properly plan, manage and co-ordinate work; ensure that hazards are identified; and risks properly controlled. All current enforcement notices under the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must be provided by the contractor when required.

The principal contractor should have an implemented and practiced Health and Safety policy and be able to provide a copy. They should be able to demonstrate ongoing staff training, covering all aspects of site and building works safety.

Furthermore, the contractor should be able to demonstrate relevant experience of carrying out CDM Regulation duties and have a dedicated Health and Safety manager amongst their staff.

2) Finance

It’s good practice to undertake financial checks to assess the financial competence of a contractor. Do they file regular financials, and do they look healthy?

Paying for an independent financial check through sources such as Dun & Bradstreet can help you assess the likely credit worthiness of a contractor by scrutinising past performance and current financial condition.

Also, pay particular attention to the quality of the tender returns received. Analysing the data in an itemised breakdown will assist comparison and highlight any suspicious looking figures. Also be mindful of tender clarifications or provisional sums, these can be general costs which lack the require detail to provide an accurate financial representation of the project.

3) Insurance

How well insured and supported is a principal contractor in the event of something unexpected? Are you going to be liable for their mistakes or will they have sufficient cover?

The principal contractor should be able to demonstrate adequate levels of insurance and be able to show the extent of the figures it could cover should insurance is necessary. Pay close attention to the excess on any claims.

Personal Indemnity Insurance (PII) is also critical, especially for Design & Build contracts, as this will cover any individual design or construction negligence or mistakes on behalf of the principal contractor.

4) Experience

Most of the above concerns theoretical, but you need to know how the contractors operate in the field.

The principal contractor should be able to produce a capability statement and a list of references for you to contact. Take the opportunity with some basics: Was the project delivered on time? How were any minor problems dealt with? How accommodating were they for any mid-project alterations?

Don’t just settle for these supplied references, which may have been selected strategically. Visit a recently completed project, walk around the space they have created. Look past the dazzling interior design and focus on workmanship – how are the carpets finished, are the window seals neat, what is the quality of the painted finish?

Another useful exercise is tender interviews to see how the contenders fare face-to-face. You can garner a lot from a 15-30 minutes conversation, and you may feel the contractor just isn’t for you.

Always bear in mind that the lowest quote does not equal the best or most appropriate. Develop a scoring matrix to determine the most competent contractor. Be open about what your expectations are, the more transparent the relationship is from the start, the better.

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