Putting quality at the centre of what we do

Over the last 18 months, the quality of the final product produced by our industry has been under the spotlight to a greater extent than since the mid-1960s and the Ronan Point tower collapse. The Scottish schools’ façade failures and Grenfell Tower fire disaster giving 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 current 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 own 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 our industry; not only bringing them up to date, but also finding new ways of communicating key messages, that individuals at all levels of our industry and all age groups can easily access and understand. My concern is that there are many within our industry and wider society, who want to make the regulations governing our industry more detailed and complex; which if we are not careful will make it harder to deliver the quality product our customers desire and 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 our industry faces and the 2009 banking crisis is a gross over-simplification.  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 for our customers, by changing the culture of our industry. With each individual within our industry taking much greater personal responsibility for what they produce.  Much of what we construct is delivered by individual craftsmen or teams of craftsmen and as an industry, 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 every craftsman working on all our sites.  At Beard, we are often criticised for our higher than average cost of site preliminaries; however, spending a little more than our competitors 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.

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 technical and commercial training we all undertake, is well respected within our 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 building 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 one’s training, on site and yes, setting a higher threshold for becoming a member of the CIOB. A long haul, maybe five or ten years, but eventually a construction industry delivering a much higher percentage of projects to our customers desired quality standards, with CIOB members becoming increasingly respected as the key player 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 own work; we as CIOB members should be at the forefront of our industry’s drive to improve quality.

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