Opinion

We need to focus on quality, not regulations

15 August 2017 | By Mark Beard

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.

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

Comments

Regulations are just as important as quality, what has to change is the drive towards profit first. Many changes need to be made over and above regulations and quality. A whole new attitude change is required.

Sheila, 15 August 2017

My view is that most major builders are putting profits and numbers before quality and the 6 monthly half and full year end plots suffer the most. I think colleges could do more on promoting quality and advising trades on NHBC and building regulations and Standards.

John Foottit, 15 August 2017

As a freelancer in the construction industry, I provide architectural and technical coordination services to architects, contractors, and developers.

Many in the industry are good, conscientious people, trying to do the best they can. Those of us in the office and those at the sharp end, the lads and lasses on site, can only work within the budgets we have been given. IHMO, the problem lies in the unfortunately named "value engineering", which, let's be honest, is a euphemism for cheap and not so cheerful.

With the best will in the world, architects can produce fantastic designs, techies, like me, can produce excellent documentation, project planners can produce perfect programs and the trades can do their best work ever, but if the quality is "value engineered" out before the trades can begin, the quality can never be restored.

Colin, 15 August 2017

Constantly for 37 years i have listened to this quality issue bad workman ship etc, it has now become very boring, this does not come from people with a trade background, just reading out of a book at uni, lectured by someone else from uni, with no onsite experience to back it up. The industry is riddled with lack of experience, and corruption is still rife, until we sort out these issues we will continue to have this, cut throat companies getting the work and making us with a conscience look inept like them.

Rob, 15 August 2017

i agree with the majority of the comments said, as with most of the major big builders and a lot of the small builders they are putting profits and numbers before quality. I have found that very few inspections are actually carried out on site by the Building Inspectors, the building industry is on to a loser when profit is put before quality.

John Stokes, 16 August 2017

As a "Quality Professional" there are many things I see on site that I "shudder" at
The programme that every one says is tight, this usually means unworkable with a madhouse at the end of the contract when there is simply no more time left!

People hiding behind computer screens and not getting out on to site, people need to own the job and not be afraid to ask "is this right?"
More training on how to build and not just manage.

Duncan Haxton, 16 August 2017

Mark's article hits the nail on the head. The Get It Right Initiative recently launched at an event hosted by Sir John Armitt is championing the reduction of error by changing the Culture at every level of the Industry and also by looking at how we plan the work again at every level from design to implementation. Our research showed that the root cause of error was due to planning and cultural issues. If we have the right culture and companies and individuals want to get it right they will develop,enhance and use the tools to eliminate error. The Get It Right Initiative currently runs a behavioural workshop for senior management on Avoidable Construction Errors A Different Approach and we are developing a course to raise awareness of quality for operatives.

Tom Barton, 19 August 2017

The 'Get it Right Initiative' is to be applauded - for far too long a culture of "Och, that'll do fine, and nobody will see it anyway" has prevailed in the industry, rather than seeking to achieve quality.

Grant Murdie, 20 August 2017

Mark, is correct with his comments if the quality is right, problems will disappear and snagging is minimal. Clients are no different to individuals they know when a job is done well, simply because there are no problems. If you build up a reputation for quality you are more likely to be invited back. How many contractors are chasing jobs, just to be able to submit a tender, far better if your reputation generates an invitation for you, especially if it results in repeat business going forward?

Lance saunders, 23 August 2017

I wish we had quality on our project.

Between the lead designer failing to manage anything beyond a brief initial design period, who subcontracted it out to foreign subconsultants who were appointed badly and loosely and then not managed at all so fees were used up before documentation started; an overly long design delivery period that again was mismanaged and based around a model that the contractor would complete the design (the subconsultants invented this without referral to anyone); a contractor who is receiving the documents who can't provide the design service needed (and who isn't obliged to anyway); a site 'design team' who see problems but refuse to help in anyway resolve them, and seem to actively prevent anyone else resolving them because taking responsibility might affect their ability to get their next job; and a client who thinks getting heavy with anyone who does try and make a difference will somehow improve things.

Sorry, where did it go wrong again?

I've been suggesting to my boss for over a year (the contract administrator) that a fundamental change is needed...now 3+ years into what was to be a 4 year project, with at least another 3 years to go, the term 'missed opportunities' doesn't even come close.

Charles, 27 August 2017

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