We need to focus on quality, not regulations
Recent construction failures make it clearer than ever that the industry needs a new drive to raise standards, and the CIOB must be at its forefront, says Mark Beard.
Over the past 18 months, the quality of the final product produced by our industry has been under the spotlight to a greater extent than since the 1960s and the Ronan Point tower collapse. The Scottish schools’ facade failures and Grenfell Tower fire disaster have given the construction industry many negative headlines and a mixed bag of reactions, coloured in large part by how the critic sees the world.
Much has been written about the inadequacy of building regulations, product testing and supervision of works on site, but little about the culture within our industry – which in my view is central to all we do. Only by radically changing our personal expectations of what is acceptable will we make real progress in improving the quality of what we deliver for our customers.
As the way we live evolves, it is absolutely right that we look at the regulations that govern construction – not only bringing them up to date, but also finding new means of communicating key messages, in ways that individuals at all levels and all age groups can easily access and understand.
Adding regulations is no solution
My concern is that there are many, within our industry and wider society, who want to make the regulations governing the sector more detailed and complex – something which, if we are not careful, will make it harder to deliver the quality product our customers deserve.
If people start to believe that simply complying with regulations is sufficient to deliver a quality product, we are heading down a very slippery slope.
To draw similarities between the situation construction faces and the banking crisis of the late 2000s is a gross oversimplification. However, one lesson we can draw from society’s reaction to the banking crisis is that simply adding more and more layers of regulations failed to solve the key underlying problems the banking industry faced.
The real answer lay in strengthening the organisational and personal moral code of every institution and individual offering banking services.
My view is that we will only make long-term, sustainable improvement to the quality of the buildings we deliver by changing our culture, with each individual taking much greater personal responsibility for what they produce.
Much of what we construct is delivered by individual craftsmen or teams. We clearly need to do more to help such people understand the importance of quality, how to achieve it and, crucially, put them in a winning position from the day they arrive on site.
A clean, safe, well-organised site with a well-thought-out project plan and clear working drawings is a base level we should provide.
At Beard, we are often criticised for the higher than average cost of our site preliminaries. However, spending a little more providing a welcoming working environment for our co-contractors and craftsmen is one of the reasons we attract and retain some of the most committed people in our industry.
Building a stronger quality culture
Acting as a pivot between project design, planning and procurement and our craftsmen is the site/project manager, a role often performed by CIOB members. The training we all undertake is well respected within the industry and by many of our customers. However, preliminary findings on recent building failures suggest that a stronger quality culture would have minimised the risk of failure.
In my view, part of being accepted as a member of the Chartered Institute of Building is an absolute commitment to quality. No CIOB member should be party to handing over any building unless they have personally carried out or overseen sufficient checks to satisfy themselves of the building quality.
To achieve such an outcome will require many years of hard work during training and on site and, yes, in my opinion, the CIOB setting a higher threshold for becoming a member of the institute.
A long haul, maybe five or 10 years, but eventually we’ll see a construction industry delivering a much higher percentage of projects to customers’ desired quality standards, with CIOB members increasingly respected as the key players in delivering quality building projects.
In conclusion, the consistent delivery of high-quality building projects cannot be achieved solely through learned debates in oak-panelled Whitehall committee rooms, but will come from individuals and teams taking responsibility for their work; we as CIOB members must be at the forefront of this drive to improve quality.
Mark Beard is executive chairman of Beard Construction