CIOB president Paul Nash: Industry must act on Edinburgh schools

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  1. Commissioning on many of these building types tend to focus on the function and operational aspects of the building services and less on the actual structure and fabric of the building itself. Perhaps introducing structural assessment along with the construction quality reports within the commissioning scope would provide additional checks in addition to those normally specified.

    Another avenue worth exploring is the quality of the design drawings and documentation provided as the preparation of such has deteriorated in terms of clarity, organisation, legibility and conciseness over the last 20 years.
    Quality draughtsmanship is not taught anymore which undoubtedly impacts the interpretation and legibility of the design.

  2. I worked on two PFI/PPP Schools Projects delivering five large secondary schools (pupil age 11 – 18). My role on both projects involved providing the “Provider” oversight of the delivery of the construction works. On this I worked closely with both the Building Contractor and the ultimate Local Authority (the ultimate Client for each relevant project), undertaking extensive daily inspections of the building works.

    As with other projects, a degree of non-compliant works occurred on each of the five school sites; with some sites experiencing a greater level of non-compliant works than others. In all cases I found that the site based personnel were very willing to seek to rectify the non-compliant works; albeit they were often prevented from doing so by managerial pressure from above.

    The pressure from above often being so great that very capable, very principled personnel felt they were left with little choice other than to allow the presence of non-compliant works or risk losing their positions.

    Both Main Contractors I worked with had extensive, third party certified, quality assurance policies and processes; and both Contractors had skilled and experienced Project and Construction Managers. If left to follow their own judgement I am confident the level of non-compliant works would have been reduced.

    A top-down managerial commitment to producing quality workmanship (just as with the top-down approach to health and safety) has helped; and is required if instances of large scale defective works are to be avoided.

    The balancing of the Cost, Time, Quality triangle requires a great deal of thought (by all parties) during the Tender and Pre-Contract periods of a project if quality (and other) problems are to be avoided during the construction phase.

  3. John Coles and Edinburgh Council have provided the UK construction industry with an excellent report and recommendations which should be taken very seriously, perhaps even as if ‘timing and luck’ had not been on the side of the children and fatalities had actually occurred!

    I fear the next time the industry’s management of quality is subject to investigation will be following such a disaster. Action is required to ensure this does not happen.

    When poor quality puts lives at risk, it should not be seen as a balancing act between cost-time-quality, or optional to have independent scrutiny, or lost in the complexities and politics of PFI.

    Quality is indeed about ethics, doing the right thing and upholding standards, whether of workmanship, supervision, design, or independent scrutiny by both designers and building control.

    We know the causes of defects; past experience and international research support many of John Cole’s recommendations. We also know the good practice that should be maintained, even in design-build, to provide the necessary checks and balances in an often fragmented process.

    Quality and independent scrutiny can be managed economically, using a risk based approach to focus limited resources, similar to safety management, particularly where quality becomes safety critical.

    It’s good to see the CIOB taking a lead and planning to create a forum to address the industry wide issue of quality. It’s about skills but also about process and will require interdisciplinary collaboration to reinstate the checks and balances required.

    The school children in this incident were ‘lucky’, they all went home, but it’s the industry that needs to learn the lessons and must do better.

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