Risk Mitigation: Why Details Matter

Written by George Najjar

Mitigating risk in a live environment is all about attention to detail. Schiavello Construction Senior Site Manager George Najjar explains his approach to maximising safety and minimising errors on a large-scale, complex build.

Identify potential problems early

People often think about the safety of personnel when they hear the term ‘risk mitigation’. As a Senior Site Manager who specialises in live environment projects, I am also constantly thinking about structural integrity, future operational costs and the impact on the people who use the building.

For example, when I take on a complex project like a hotel refurbishment or restaurant upgrade, risk mitigation begins in the earliest days. This includes liaising with architects, engineers and other designers to review project plans in great detail, allowing for the integration of critical construction knowledge. Adopting a collaborative approach from the outset allows us to identify potential problems early during design completion and to develop solutions, eliminating risk for all involved.

What’s more, after working on complex construction projects for more than 15 years, I’m not afraid to speak out. I’m a firm believer that raising a concern with an architect or asking for clarification about the weight and size of a particular slab, for example, will save time and money in the long run.

Risk mitigation on any type of upgrade project also means carefully reviewing the existing facilities before work commences. The construction team must understand power supply and placement so it can plan accordingly. Even the smallest components like existing nuts and bolts must be examined, to determine whether they can be removed without too much difficulty.

To ensure consistency, we follow a strict framework, often exceeding Australian standards for construction during our projects. To illustrate this point, consider the impact of a leak in the top level of a 15-storey building. Prevention through careful risk mitigation is always better (and cheaper) than cure.


Prioritising the customer experience

One of my most recent projects involved a major upgrade to Sydney’s popular Golden Century restaurant. We faced the immense challenge of adding an extra floor without impacting operations.

If you’re familiar with Golden Century, you will know it is staffed for over 20 hours a day, with chefs kicking off at 7am and the last staff leaving for the ‘night’ at 4 o’clock in the morning.

You’ll also know that Golden Century’s reputation as one of Sydney’s most iconic venues is cemented by tank upon tank of live seafood. When creating the new addition, we had to undertake demolition, structural steelworks, interior construction and crane operation, all without losing a single prawn!

Likewise, mitigating risk for this project involved a great deal of care and coordination, especially when upgrading the power supply. This technical phase was completed with the help of detailed walkthroughs and careful planning. The risk was high but we had everyone working together to introduce additional power supplies so as not to affect the air conditioning or fish tank pumps for more than a few minutes.

As both the client’s revenue and reputation were on the line, maintaining customer experience and business continuity was critical. To ensure the comfort of patrons was maintained, the bulk of noise-creating work took place between 3 am and 10 am, the only time of day when Golden Century’s dining tables are empty. Remarkably, the feedback we had from many customers, even though there was so much going on, was that they had no idea the project was taking shape above their heads.

Despite the construction challenges throughout, a highly strategic approach to risk mitigation ensured that major demolition, structural steel and infrastructure came together, all while the restaurant was in full swing.

Golden Century Restaurant Fitout lounge feature ceiling

Minimising risk in a live environment

On another project, Sydney’s Crown Plaza Hotel, scope of works included the heavy refurbishment of their lobby, over 200 guest rooms, state of the art conference centre, along with a number of restaurants, kitchens and bars.

In addition to the extensive amount of work to be done at the Coogee landmark, the challenge lay in ensuring Crowne Plaza remained fully operational throughout the build.

Our approach in this instance, as with all our projects,  was underpinned by highly advanced technical expertise and quality workmanship. At the core was our team’s ability to think like a commercial hotel operator, prioritising the needs of the venue, its staff and all guests.

We worked closely with Crowne Plaza to develop a programme of works around their schedule, ever mindful of the need to be incredibly agile and adaptive to their requirements.

Crucially, with hotel and construction teams co-existing on site, daily meetings with hotel operators were essential – including catching up with guest services, housekeeping and maintenance.

Valuable insight was gained by first delivering a prototype suite. Importantly for all, it provided a visual and tactile ‘preview’ of the end result. Along with the lessons learnt, this enabled greater cost efficiencies and ensured consistent quality.

The importance of due diligence

In taking on complex projects, I embody a ‘future-proofing’ approach, keeping in mind ongoing usability, cost-effectiveness and efficiency as well as the aspects of the build itself.

The Crowne Plaza renovation was a multi-million dollar project and we needed to make sure the outcome would make economic sense as well as standing the test of time. This meant carefully examining the practicality and functionality of every feature, conducting thorough due diligence to help increase operational efficiency and reduce ongoing costs.

One of the changes which arose from the due diligence process was the relocation of several base building services, including mechanical units and the swimming pool heating system. By making them more accessible, we also made them easier for the venue to run and service after our work was done.

Again, by paying close attention to detail in the early days, we were able to deliver long-term cost savings.

Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach Schiavello Fitout Hotel Hospitality Restaurant Bar Tourism
Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach Schiavello Fitout Hote lobby foyer

Ensuring expectations are met

While being meticulous about documentation and risk mitigation may mean spending extra time in the lead-up to and during a project, it nonetheless gives both Schiavello Construction and the clients we represent peace of mind about each step being followed to the letter.

By mitigating risk, we are ensuring expectations are consistently met, stakeholders are satisfied and safety standards are adhered to meticulously. The benefit of a live environment project lies in being able to complete works without impacting customers or the reputation of the establishment. Moreover, we are thinking about the future — ensuring the improvements we make deliver ongoing cost-savings as well as great looks and functionality.