Achieving quality outcomes in projects is one of the Australian construction industry’s most significant challenges. One way to accomplish this is by taking a holistic approach, with the right protocols and practices in place before a project breaks ground. How specialists approach Quality Assurance (QA) for waterproofing is an exemplar of how it is done.
According to a recent survey undertaken by ACA research, many construction businesses have trouble developing QA systems. Around two-thirds of respondents (67%) reported they find all aspects of QA challenging—from setting up their protocols and creating appropriate forms through to training, on-site processes, data management, and QA reporting.
One of the most significant obstacles to a builder or a project developing QA processes is perceptions around cost, according to James Lucas, Managing Director and Principal Engineer at The Environmental Protection Group (EPG).
His consultancy provides Construction Quality Assurance (CQA) consulting for high-risk projects. These include basements on commercial and multi-residential projects, particularly at sites where there are contamination (such as old service stations) and landfill issues requiring additional remediation systems (such as vapour and landfill gas mitigation systems).
Why the Investment Needs to be Made
The big problem Lucas encounters is most clients or projects are reluctant to invest in QA processes beyond regulatory compliance.
Waterproofing, for example, is only addressed in the National Construction Code in terms of ‘wet areas’ in a building. However, there is currently no Australian Standard for waterproofing of underground structures like basement structures, Lucas explains.
That means there is no minimum standard of waterproofing design or associated QA during construction, and the results can be mixed. The stakes are high, as a failure of basement waterproofing can result in damage that requires hundreds of thousands of dollars to rectify. The consequences are compounded when working on contaminated sites due to possible health risks to future building users.
In Victoria, recent changes to trade waste agreements mean that permanent dewatering is no longer an acceptable option. Therefore, there is an even greater emphasis placed on the need for high-quality waterproofing systems in terms of using the right materials for the job and developing a relevant QA program around it.
Design Your Program Around Quality
Lucas says that establishing QA protocols to ensure an appropriate result requires several factors. Firstly, a builder needs to examine the program to ensure adequate time will be allowed for the waterproofing subcontractor to do it right and allow for an inspection “hold point” before the next stage of work in that area. This might require reorganising the order of some works to maintain overall project timelines.
Get Everyone Involved Before Works Begin
A pre-start meeting is essential. It brings together all the relevant parties, including the builder, structural engineer, waterproofing subcontractor, and site supervisor. By the end of this meeting, all parties should agree to the project timelines, communication chains, QA hold points, and work through detailing and material changes, which should be minor at this stage. The level of waterproofing that will be achieved or required by the client and agreed QA is ideally decided during the tender process so that all bidders are aware of the minimum waterproofing expectations.
Look Across Projects to Find Common Problems
While every project is different, every builder will generally find there are some elements of projects where rework or defects occur more often. In addition to waterproofing, research has identified common issues with roofing and rainwater disposal, mechanical and ventilation, structural systems, fire protection systems, building sealing, and product specifications. Failure to achieve quality, and sometimes even minimum compliance, has frequently been cited as the cause of serious defects requiring rectification.
Consider Project Lifecycle Cost and Cashflow
Lucas says that engaging with experienced waterproofing consultants can help project managers identify water ingress risks early in the project. They can then respond accordingly when it comes to the level of QA and hold points for a particular project, he adds.
“We often see builders spend hundreds of thousands rectifying defects. If the risks are high, the cost of a defect are significant compared to independent QA,” he says.
Time-related costs may be involved in putting the effort in at the front end of projects to prioritise QA protocols. And yet, according to Lucas, failure to achieve quality may result in a significant cost in subsequent disputes between the builder and the waterproofing contractor, or the builder and the client.
Unfortunately, Lucas notes there will continue to be defects and financial impacts until there are a minimum waterproofing design and QA standard.
Put Hold Points in Place
Experienced builders have learnt from project outcomes in terms of significant defects or other issues. These builders are aware of the risks and are, therefore, more likely to engage in QA.
“Work through what the weakest points are, and design hold points there in the program.”
How to Bring It All Together
Managing the required level of process and detail is hard to do with the conventional tick sheet and clipboard. According to 45% of the ACA survey respondents, it is difficult to effectively monitor the project quality without an integrated data management platform. In fact, 38% of the ACA survey respondents stated that paper-based QA systems increase the risk of re-work.
Tom Karemacher, Vice President APAC at Procore Technologies, says that the unprecedented socio-economic forces accelerating digital transformation in the Australian construction industry are creating an opportunity to manage QA processes across a construction business better.
“This widespread uplift in digital maturity will not only help the industry to deliver high-quality projects, but it will also increase consumer confidence and trust in the sector,” Karemacher says. “Technology presents a real opportunity for productivity and economic gains as the industry doubles down on quality.”