Training for workplace safety on Australian construction sites has led to measurable improvements in the rate of injuries and fatalities. As the industry strives to address the issue of construction quality failures, there is a case for developing and implementing onsite training for Quality Assurance processes.
Developing Quality Assurance (QA) plans, policies, processes and protocols at a management level is only half the solution to addressing problems with quality.
As ACA research found when surveying 162 construction companies across the country, ensuring what is decided at the head office translates to site practices is a major challenge. While more than half (55%) of respondents said responsibility for quality assurance should be moved from the office to the worksite, one of the major obstacles encountered by almost half (46%) of respondents is difficulties getting site staff to fully comply with QA processes.
Where data and reporting has been made part of the company QA management processes, 41% of respondents said site managers often remain “in the dark” about how the information they collect is used.
A guide to quality in project delivery by peak body Austroads found multiple ways in which lack of training and clear site processes create a gap between QA policies and QA outcomes. For example, there is a lack of accepted guidelines or training resources on QA for the road construction industry. Correspondingly, there is no strong “systems culture” for QA as there is for safety systems such as toolbox meetings, SWMS and regular audits.
“Documented procedures are also essential to implement corrective action to prevent recurrence of non-conformances,” the guide notes.
These processes should be suitable for training site personnel. Key quality issues should also be reinforced in site toolbox meetings as part of the QA system.
Bridging the Gap Between Office and Site
Construction project management expert and author, Paul Netscher, has highlighted the role communication between management and site workers plays in ensuring quality.
“Many of the problems on construction projects are due to poor communication and crews not knowing what’s expected of them,” he wrote in one of his blog posts. “Managers often don’t communicate the project rules, behaviour expectations, quality standards and safety requirements.”
Netscher tells Jobsite that quality “starts with people having pride in their work.”
“To achieve good quality everyone must realise they are responsible for good quality work,” he explains.
“It is driven by management, supervisors, individual workers, and not by a quality manager. A quality manager is a facilitator and manages processes – they are not responsible for quality on projects.”
Processes and Policies Are Only Part of the Solution
“Workers must have the right skills, the right equipment, and of course quality materials,” Netscher says.
It is also vital everyone involved on the project understands the wider context of why quality matters.
“Everyone on the project must understand the results of poor quality work – additional costs and time of rectification, reputation loss, possible poor media, and even structural failure resulting in injury and fatalities.”
In an article he wrote about the costs of poor quality, Netscher noted that the risks to safety from poor quality work are not confined to the post-completion occupants. Rectification work can involve hazardous demolitions, involve access challenges, and the work itself is “often done in haste and could involve unsafe practices.”
Why Documentation Matters
Record keeping matters. Netscher says quality-related paperwork includes checklists and a record of problems and rectification – but it is not something that gets done “simply because the client or boss demands it.”
“So just as the pilot goes through a pre-flight and pre-take-off checklist, not because passengers demand it but so they are sure the plane is safe to fly, so to the purpose of quality checklists.”
QA data collection does not only include verification of what has been done correctly, Netscher says it should also include record keeping around defects.
The purpose of recording defects is to ensure firstly that they are fixed correctly, and secondly to see how that defect can be avoided in the future and quality improved.
“Too many see this process as a blame game and finger pointing exercise.”
What QA Training Can Look Like
Netscher says quality training takes many forms: improving skills; ensuring crews understand why quality is important and their part in improving quality; and, what documentation is required on the project, how to complete it and why it is necessary.
“A good start for covering some of these topics is the project induction, which every worker should attend before working on the project,” Netscher says.
“Unfortunately, most project inductions are done poorly and often left to the safety manager. But project inductions are an opportunity to set the standards, rules, and expectations for the project – including safety, quality and behaviour.”