High quality construction is essential, but this is challenged by a lack of regulation. Clare M Thomas, Managing Director, Q Assure Build explains
As the UK construction industry attempts to balance growth with sustainability, resource efficiency and globalisation, it has come under increasing pressure to improve the quality of construction to protect consumers and reduce failure rates. From the All Party Parliamentary Group report “More Homes, Fewer Complaints”, to the widely documented failure of 17 PFI Schools in Edinburgh, scrutiny has sharpened the focus on an industry which relies heavily on manual labour and traditional building practices and struggles to maintain skilled, experienced individuals.
A key challenge to quality is the lack of regulation within the production aspect of the construction process.
Most building design is undertaken by professionals regulated by professional bodies and who carry Professional Indemnity Insurance, which increases scrutiny of skills, experience, processes and procedures for producing design work. Additionally, the mandatory requirements of the UK Building Regulations and British and European Standards set out a clear framework for design.
With the exception of electrical and gas works, however, there is very little need to prove skills in production. On-site, it is necessary to demonstrate health and safety competency at supervisor and site management level, but there is virtually no requirement to demonstrate enhanced technical competence or understanding of construction. There are of course many skilled, experienced individuals in the industry, but it is perhaps surprising that almost anyone can offer their services in many trades without having to formally demonstrate any level of technical competence.
Another key issue in addressing quality standards is the contractual nature of the industry.
Sub-contracting can provide Clients with “cost certainty”, but this can often provide a real disincentive to the workforce taking ownership of quality; when most jobs are cost-driven, contractors frequently have margins squeezed and are forced to accept piecework incentives to realise cost-savings.
Furthermore, Clients regularly rely on remediation or seeking compensation for redress when things go wrong, rather than investing in independent oversight of projects to ensure they are built right first time. Indeed, in his recent inquiry into the failure of the Edinburgh Schools, Professor John Cole described this issue as “inevitably a false economy”, and that repeated failures across the industry suggest current quality assurance processes have “frequently proved inadequate”.
Commitment to a quality environment
At Q, we believe that quality construction is significantly improved by understanding the contractual and technical nature of projects. Independent oversight during construction is essential to ensure that workmanship is suitable and designs are accurately followed on-site. We undertake a minimum of eight inspections per plot, concentrating significantly more risk management effort on the physical construction process, identifying high-risk workmanship areas, and working with site teams to get it right first time.
Fundamentally, committing to a total quality environment is essential to improving quality. Individuals need clear, quality-driven incentives so that they can own the quality of their work. Companies need to understand the technical capabilities of their teams and ensure supervision is competent and experienced. And Clients must align commercial and procurement processes with a culture of continual improvement involving measures of independent oversight.
It is this cultural focus which will drive quality improvements in the construction industry.
Clare M Thomas
Q Assure Build Ltd
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