Main Contractors

In the United Kingdom and certain former British Commonwealth countries such as Hong Kong, the term ‘general contractor’ was gradually superseded by ‘main contractor’ during the early twentieth century. This followed the practice of major professional, trade and consumer organizations issuing standard forms of contract for undertaking the variety of construction works spanning the whole spectrum of the industry. It was and is usual for the term main contractor to be used and defined in all these contract documents, and as a result, the term general contractor became an anachronism in these countries.

A Main contractor usually holds the prime construction contract of the project with another organization or individual (the owner) for the construction, renovation or demolition of a building, road or other structure.

A main (general) contractor is responsible for the means and methods to be used in the construction execution of the project in accordance with the contract documents. Said contract documents usually include the contract agreement including budget, the general and special conditions and the plans and specification of the project that are prepared by a design professional such as an architect.

A general contractor usually is responsible for the supplying of all material, labor, equipment, (engineering vehicles and tools) and services necessary for the construction of the project. To do this it is common for the general contractor to subcontract part of the work to other persons and companies that specialize in these types of work. These are called subcontractors.

General contractors conducting work for government agencies are typically referred to as prime contractors. The responsibilities of a prime contractors working under a contract are essentially identical to those outlined above. In many cases, prime contractors will delegate portions of the contract work to subcontractors. As a rule, general contractors will provide direct labor for civil aspects of a construction project, such as placement of concrete, carpentry, etc.- with specialty areas, such as mechanical and electrical construction furnished by specialty subcontractors. However, there are instances in certain types of projects, e.g., major pipelines, electrical utility lines, etc., where the preponderance of the work lies within one of these specialties (or some other specialized aspect). Here, the mechanical or electrical contractor, with the majority of the workload, can operate as a “prime” contractor, with the “general” contractor providing services with subcontractor status, and dealing with the owner/owner’s representative via the prime contractor.