Archive for November, 2008

My Job Description: On-site A**hole

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

My current role with BG Bolivia is on-site engineer of a pipeline river crossing construction project (see this previous post and its associated pictures for an idea of the work we are doing). Basically I am there to make sure the company who is doing the work for us is doing it in the best way possible in terms of quality, safety, making sure they do things according to standards and approved procedures, etc.

Now, working with a contractor is a very ‘interesting’ dynamic. We want them to do it: on schedule, safely, with attention to quality (so that the pipeline functions for 10-20 years and not just a couple). They, on the other hand, want to do it: as fast and cheap as possible. For the contractor, finishing the project, getting paid, and moving their equipment to another project is their (understandable) priority. Also, they are getting paid a pre-determined lump sum for the entire project, so if they can cut a few corners during the construction part and save some money, that money is all profit (and trust me, that is exactly what their bosses are telling them to do). So, with these differing priorities in mind, we move to the job site.

We come to site, see that the contractor is about to do some task, so we just re-enforce some concepts: “Hey guys, make sure you do this and that, as was agreed in the procedure. We don’t want any safety/quality issues coming up later because you didn’t do it.” They reply: “Yeah, of course we are going to do that, don’t worry about it.” We leave to check something else, come back, and they are doing it their own fast/wrong/unsafe way. We go find who is in charge, stop the job, exchange a few pleasantries that mainly include 4-letter words, and then we stay and supervise (or a more appropriate term, ‘baby-sit’) them until we see that they are in fact doing it the way that is required.

This problem continues over and over, in various different forms, ad perpetuum. We have no option but to get angry, show our displeasure at the contractor for doing/attempting whatever it is, to discourage them from cutting corners. They still keep doing it, but our job is to resist as strongly as possible so that they do not walk all over us and start telling us how to do the job. The only way to do that is to be an asshole.

Now, I will admit this is rather new territory to me. I would prefer to just sit down, agree on something, and have it be done that way. But that hardly ever happens. It is really quite a frustrating way to work, having to get physically agitated to solve problems, and for me to be arguing in Spanish is that much more difficult (they have taken advantage of that many times, to my obvious displeasure). It adds a whole new level of stress when a typical day on site involves getting mad and frustrated and playing babysitter to grown men. I am becoming better at being an asshole on site, but I question if that is actually a good thing.

Anyways, that is a bit of my rant, and a bit of insight into my job and why working on site can be quite draining. Now I will admit that contractors vary, and when you have good people that know their stuff and know what they are doing, it makes the situations a lot more manageable. In this case however, some of the guys on site (who are supposedly engineers, but I have my doubts for several reason, which I will not get into because I think that deserves a post all by itself) are so hard-headed that it makes the job very difficult at times.

Looking forward to getting back to Canada and working in the (likely more calm) office environment there!