A Contractor’s Guide for Stop Work Orders

Stay ahead of stop work orders with our expert contractor's guide. Learn how to anticipate, manage, and resolve stoppages with confidence.

Last Updated on March 26, 2024 by Ossian Muscad

As a contractor, you know that dealing with tight margins and schedules is always a challenge. But even when you do everything right, sometimes things outside your control can cause big problems. A minor building code violation can force a stop work order, leading to extended timelines, expensive penalties, and more customer frustrations. 

Of course, no one ever expects a stop work order to come down the pipeline, but when it does, it can be a major headache for contractors. In this article, we’ll discuss what stop work orders are and why they happen. We’ll also share some tips on dealing with them and ensuring that your project stays on track. 


What is a Stop Work Order in Construction?

A stop work order (SWO) is a legally binding instruction issued by a local building department or code enforcement agency that requires work on a construction project to stop immediately. While the order can be given through word of mouth, it’s only enforceable when confirmed in writing. Stop work orders apply to any project with a written contract; however, they’re more common in the construction industry. Once an SWO is issued, the contractor managing the project should cease all project-related activities immediately.


Common Reasons for a Stop Work Order

When a project fails to comply with the building code, the local authorities can issue a stop work order. This order also helps resolve payment disputes, reduce the extent of damage in breach of contract, and correct other safety hazards. There are many reasons for a stop work order, but some of the most common include: 

  • Failure to comply with workers’ compensation regulations.
  • Violating environmental protection laws regarding the use of hazardous materials.
  • Failing to comply with OSHA standards and regulations.
  • Not having the proper permits or licenses for the work being performed.
  • Using unlicensed/fake contractors.
  • Failure to follow the Occupational Health and Safety Act by OSHA.
  • Performing activities that are considered illegal according to regulations.


What to Include in a Stop Work Order?

A stop work order in the construction industry can pause a project, leading to delays and potentially significant financial losses. Understanding what to include in a stop work order is crucial for both issuing authorities and contractors to ensure the order is clear, enforceable, and remediable. Below is a detailed guide on the key elements to include in a stop work order to minimize misunderstandings and expedite the resolution process.

Details of the Activities Suspended

A stop work order should clearly identify which activities are to cease immediately. This could range from specific aspects of construction, such as electrical work or plumbing, to halting all project operations. It’s important that the order is precise to prevent any unnecessary delay in work that could otherwise continue without contravening regulations or safety standards.

Clear Instructions on the Corrections Needed

To ensure swift resolution and project continuation, a stop work order must provide explicit instructions on the corrections required. This includes:

  • Resolution: Detailed steps the contractor must take to address the violations or issues that led to the stop work order. This may involve obtaining proper permits, correcting code violations, or hiring licensed subcontractors.
  • Termination: Clear criteria for how and when the stop work order will be lifted. This should include any inspections or certifications required to demonstrate compliance with the order’s demands.


Highlight the potential consequences of not complying with the stop work order. This section should outline possible legal actions, additional fines, and extended delays that could be incurred if the contractor fails to follow the specified corrective measures.

Communication and Review Process

Detail the communication channels and review process for the contractor to submit evidence of compliance or to appeal the stop work order. This could include specific contacts within the issuing authority, required documentation, and timelines for review and response.

Follow-up and Compliance Verification

Explain the procedure for follow-up inspections or submissions to verify compliance with the correction requirements. This should specify who will conduct the follow-up, what forms of evidence are acceptable, and how the contractor can proceed once compliance is verified.


An official stop work order should include space for signatures from both the issuing authority and the contractor. This serves as an acknowledgment from both parties that the order has been received, understood, and agreed upon. It legally binds the contractor to halt specified activities and comply with the outlined corrective measures while also holding the issuing authority accountable for enforcing the order. Signatures validate the document, making it a pivotal aspect of the formal stop work order process.


2 Main Types of Stop Work Orders

Stop Work Orders (SWOs) in the construction industry are crucial tools for enforcing compliance with laws and safety standards. They are broadly categorized into two main types, namely Partial Stop Work Orders and Full Stop Work Orders, each serving distinct purposes and implications for a construction project. While a Partial SWO restricts specific activities or parts of a project, a Full SWO mandates a complete halt of all construction activities.

Partial SWO

A Partial Stop Work Order is issued when non-compliance or safety issues are localized to a specific area or aspect of the construction project. This type of order allows other parts of the project to continue while the identified issues are addressed. It is often used to minimize disruption and financial impact, providing an opportunity for corrective action in a targeted manner without completely stopping progress on the project.

Full SWO

In contrast, a Full Stop Work Order is implemented when there are widespread violations, safety concerns, or illegal activities affecting the entire project. This mandate requires that all construction activities cease immediately until the issues leading to the SWO are fully rectified and compliance is achieved. A Full SWO represents a significant measure, indicating serious problems that need comprehensive resolution to ensure safety and legal compliance.


Examples of SWO in Action

Stop Work Orders (SWOs) serve as critical interventions in the construction industry, safeguarding against violations of laws and safety standards. They are enforced to halt operations due to non-compliance issues, ensuring that projects proceed within legal and safe parameters. Understanding how SWOs operate, including their types and the procedures following their issuance, is pivotal for industry professionals to manage and mitigate project risks effectively. The following are some examples of when SWOs may be issued:

Example 1: The Big Dig, Boston, Massachusetts

One of the most notable examples of a Stop Work Order (SWO) in action occurred during the construction of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, commonly known as the Big Dig, in Boston, Massachusetts. The project, which aimed to alleviate traffic congestion through the construction of tunnels, bridges, and highways, faced multiple SWOs throughout its duration.

A significant SWO was issued in 2004 after a concrete slab fell from the ceiling of a completed tunnel, leading to a tragic accident. This incident prompted an extensive review of safety and construction practices across the entire project. The SWO required a comprehensive inspection of all tunnel sections to ensure proper installation and adherence to safety standards, significantly delaying project completion and increasing costs.

Example 2: Las Vegas Harmon Hotel, Nevada

Another example involved the Harmon Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. The project, part of the CityCenter development, was subject to a Partial Stop Work Order in 2008 after inspections uncovered improper installation of critical steel reinforcements, posing serious structural safety risks.

The discovery led to a halt in construction above certain floors while a thorough investigation and corrective actions took place. The issues uncovered were so severe, and the cost of rectifying them was so high that the decision was eventually made to cap the building at a lower height than originally planned. The SWO served as a critical intervention, potentially preventing catastrophic structural failure.


Penalties for Non-compliance with SWOs

Whether a project is subject to a Partial or Full Stop Work Order (SWO), it is imperative that all specified construction activities cease immediately. Failure to comply can lead to severe consequences, with the primary aim being to resolve the identified issues before any work can resume. If the directive of an SWO is ignored and work continues in violation of the order, the offending party can expect to incur substantial financial penalties.

For instance, in jurisdictions such as New York City, the penalties for non-compliance are particularly strict. Should a construction site be issued a Full SWO and work continues regardless, those found in violation can expect a hefty fine. A first offense may result in a fine of $5,000. However, this is just the beginning.

Subsequent offenses can see penalties increase to $10,000 each. It’s important to note that these fines are in addition to any costs associated with the paperwork and filings required to have the SWO lifted, which can significantly increase the financial burden.

These measures underscore the importance of adhering to SWOs and the high costs associated with ignoring them. The intention behind these penalties is not just punitive but also to ensure compliance with safety standards and legal requirements, thereby protecting the integrity of the construction project and the safety of all involved.


How to Lift a Stop Work Order

When work stops on a job site, project and payment timelines can be heavily impacted, causing delays and financial losses. To restart work after receiving a Stop Work Order (SWO), it’s crucial to follow a series of steps diligently and efficiently. These steps include correcting the violations, requesting re-inspection from the issuing agency, and paying the necessary fees, among others.

Correct the Violations

First and foremost, all compliance issues or safety violations mentioned in the SWO should be tackled. This could include making repairs, adjusting construction practices, or updating project plans as necessary. Keep in mind that documenting evidence of these corrections might be necessary, so ensure you maintain comprehensive records for reference.

Request Re-inspection from the Issuing Agency

After addressing all violations and ensuring they are corrected, the subsequent action involves reaching out to the agency that issued the SWO (Stop Work Order) to initiate a re-inspection process. The purpose of this re-inspection is to validate that the required corrections have been successfully implemented and align with the safety and compliance regulations set forth by the agency. This crucial step ensures that the workplace meets the specified standards, promoting a safe and compliant environment for all individuals involved.

Pay the Fees

Often, dealing with a Safety Work Order (SWO) involves resolving fines or fees associated with the violation and completing the re-inspection procedure. It’s imperative to settle any outstanding payments swiftly to avoid further delays in addressing the issue comprehensively. If you encounter challenges in understanding the fees, discussing any concerns with the issuing agency is recommended.

Submit Required Documentation

Certain regulatory agencies may necessitate the submission of comprehensive documentation outlining the corrective measures implemented to rectify the SWO’s stipulations. This documentation could encompass detailed repair records, the introduction of new safety protocols, or the revision of construction plans to align with regulatory requirements.

Schedule a Hearing (if necessary)

In certain instances, particularly for significant violations or repeated offenses, a formal hearing may be necessary prior to the removal of a SWO. During this process, individuals can showcase evidence of rectifications made and advocate for the reinstatement of operations. This crucial step allows for a detailed examination of the situation and a fair consideration of the circumstances surrounding the SWO.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: What Should You Do When You Receive an SWO?

A stop work order may cause unnecessary delays and possible prison time for legal non-compliance. You wouldn’t want to spend time fighting legal battles for money that could’ve been more useful in your project. With that said, here’s what you should do when you get a stop work order:

  • It’s important to note that a stop work order is not a request—it’s an order. You must legally stop work immediately once you’ve received the SWO.
  • Read and understand the order completely. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.
  • Comply with the order and make the necessary corrections. Depending on the severity of the violation, this could take a few hours or days.
  • Determine the cost and extent of the work necessary to make the corrections. Then, decide whether to continue with the project or whether termination makes more sense.
  • Create a work plan to fix the issues. 
  • Start the process of work resumption by following the steps in order. This could include applying for the proper permits or licenses, hiring a new contractor, and more.
  • Once you’ve made the required changes, notify the authorities that issued the SWO so they can inspect your work. If satisfied, they will lift the order, and you can resume work on your project.

Q2: Can You Appeal an SWO?

Yes, you can appeal a stop work order. If you believe that the SWO was issued in error or disagree with its terms, you have the right to file an appeal with the issuing agency. It’s crucial to note that there is usually a limited time frame for appealing to an SWO, so be sure to act quickly and efficiently. If the appeal is successful, the SWO will be lifted, and you can continue with your project as planned.

Q3: Can an SWO Be Resolved Without Paying a Fine?

In some cases, a SWO may be resolved without paying a fine. This typically occurs when the violation is minor or easily remedied and all necessary corrections have been made. However, in more severe cases where significant violations have occurred, fines may be necessary to lift the SWO. It’s essential to consult with legal counsel and the issuing agency to understand the specific requirements and potential penalties associated with an SWO.

Q4: What Happens if You Ignore an SWO?

Ignoring a Stop Work Order can result in serious consequences for both the individual and the project. This can include additional fines, imprisonment, and even revocation of necessary permits or licenses. It’s crucial to address an SWO promptly and follow the necessary steps to resolve it to avoid further legal repercussions.

Q5: How Can You Prevent Receiving an SWO?

The best way to prevent receiving a Stop Work Order is by proactively adhering to all safety and compliance regulations. This includes:

  • Regularly reviewing and updating project plans.
  • Conducting thorough inspections.
  • Addressing any potential violations or hazards immediately.


Additionally, maintaining clear communication with the issuing agency can help ensure that all requirements are met and prevent the need for an SWO in the first place.

Q6: Is There a Way to Expedite the SWO Resolution Process?

In some instances, it may be possible to expedite the process of resolving a Stop Work Order by working closely with legal counsel and the issuing agency. This could include providing all necessary documentation and evidence upfront, promptly addressing any concerns or violations identified during re-inspection, and maintaining clear communication throughout the process. However, it’s important to note that each case is unique and may require different approaches for swift resolution.


Resolve Stop Work Orders or Avoid Them Altogether with DATAMYTE

DATAMYTE is a quality management platform with low-code capabilities. Our Digital Clipboard, in particular, is low-code workflow automation software that features a workflow, checklist, and smart form builder. This tool lets you create custom checklists, forms, and workflows to ensure compliance with safety and regulatory requirements. With DATAMYTE, you can prevent receiving SWOs by proactively addressing potential violations before they escalate into formal orders.

DATAMYTE also lets you conduct layered process audits, a high-frequency evaluation of critical process steps, focusing on areas with the highest failure risk or non-compliance. Conducting LPA with DATAMYTE lets you effectively identify and correct potential defects before they become major quality issues.

With DATAMYTE, you have an all-in-one solution for quality management and compliance, helping you avoid costly delays and legal complications. Experience efficient and streamlined processes with DATAMYTE today. Book a demo now to learn more.



Stop work orders can be a nightmare for contractors, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can avoid them entirely. Instead, comply with the order and make the necessary corrections so you can get back to work as soon as possible.

While stop-work orders can be a hassle, they’re essential to ensure the safety of workers and the general public. We hope this guide has helped us understand stop-work orders and how to deal with them.



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