Anyone with even just a passing interest in the activities of the CIOB will be aware that one of our areas of focus is quality in construction. Members who may be reading this will likely have been involved in our quality agenda work in some shape or form – contributing to the Members’ Forum discussions, helping us develop our quality code or attending or helping us spread the word about our quality in construction course, for example. The CIOB has this strand of work as such a high priority that one of my first meetings as CEO here was with Paul Nash, Past President and Chair of the CIOB’s Quality Commission, to talk specifically about the Commission’s work and outputs.
Why are we doing this?
We do occasionally get asked things like “why does the construction industry need a course on quality?” It’s worth taking a minute to set the scene and remind people why we have invested so much time and energy in this. As Paul Nash puts it, somewhere along the way, an institutional acceptance of error crept into the construction process. It wasn’t happening everywhere, but enough to ring alarm bells. What’s more, it was felt that it was unlikely to be a “self-correcting” error and that a change in culture was needed such as the industry has undergone for health and safety.
The issue came to fore in 2017. In February of that year, Professor John Cole published a report into the defects that led to the closure of 17 schools in Edinburgh and, along with other industry bodies, the CIOB attended a roundtable to discuss the findings and plan next steps. Around the same time, declining consumer satisfaction with new homes identified a need to address some serious quality failings in the residential sector.
Just a few months later, in June 2017, the fire at Grenfell Tower in London claimed the lives of 72 people and the CIOB launched a Commission of Past Presidents to investigate the issue of quality in construction and to consider what steps were needed to address it.
In gathering evidence, we surveyed the industry and the response pointed overwhelmingly to the need for top-to-bottom change. Eighty-four percent of respondents said workmanship suffers because of poor management of quality, and 82% said signing off work is compromised by the same.
How have we done this?
Precisely because it is such an important strand of work for us – and for the wider industry – it is necessary to highlight the excellent work done so far. I want to offer my praise to Members for their commitment and significant contributions to what we have achieved so far. I also want to thank the Past Presidents who made up the Quality Commission – Paul Nash plus Sir James Wates CBE, Professor Roger Flanagan and Peter Jacobs, and the members of my own team who have supported them in this work.
We opened our consultations up to all our members and to non-members and you responded brilliantly. I don’t take this for granted – this is an issue for the whole sector, not just chartered construction managers and, of course, the industry on a global scale. It’s important as we get voices from SMEs and consultants and the breadth of the industry, not just the larger corporates. We believe that what we have pulled together does reflect the impact of the quality issue and hearing the voices of SMEs, not just the big players, is essential to make a real difference for the whole industry.
I am also keen to highlight that the results of this have the potential to have global reach. We may have the UK’s facts and figures at out fingertips, but we have members worldwide and know that there is a huge variation in quality in some regions. We had some excellent presentations from some of our global members at Members’ Forum earlier this year.
Virginia Borkoski FCIOB, based in New York, talked about how construction managers are certified under the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) Code, which operates on a similar basis to MCIOB. Quality control is one of the standard pillars of CMAA’s standards of practice, and there is a clear definition, process and set of controls which are mandated under the Code.
Andrew Gardner-Mitchel FCIOB, on behalf of the CIOB’s Middle East and North Africa Hub, painted a picture of the issues faced in the region which include limited quality standards; a broadly untrained workforce; an expectation of cost-cutting leading to a race to the bottom, with few consequences for delivering a poor-quality building. However, there are slow but gradual improvements being seen. Andrew made the case that there could be an opportunity for CIOB to provide some support with our experience, quality in construction courses and sign-posting to relevant standards.
Three of our Fellows from Ireland, Michael Gallagher, Ivan McCarthy and Kevin Sheridan, provided a presentation on the legislation in place in Ireland, beginning with the 2007 Building Controls Act (and spreading into other forms of subsequent regulation), and how the Act assigns responsibility for each aspect of quality management. The Construction Industry Register Ireland also serves as a voluntary register which recognises competent builders in Ireland. The three also went through the process of quality testing a proposed building design.
We know that international members can have huge influence where they are based and can lead the way in demonstrating the value of what we know about best practice and the positive results of a quality culture.
So I’m using this opportunity to reissue the call I made in my first CIOB blog: please support the work of our Construction Quality Commission – download our report Improving Quality in the Built Environment and look at the key principles for embedding quality, as a starting point, and continue helping us to highlight and embed the good practices in the industry, in the UK and overseas.