Defects in construction have almost become accepted as part of business as usual. But, according to industry experts who presented at Procore’s Breaking the Cycle of Defects live panel, this is set to change.
Here are some of the ways construction leaders believe the industry can lift its game to aim for a goal of zero defects:
Construction defects in Australia, the UK and the USA have proven an intractable problem – but organisations and stakeholders from across the project value chain are uniting to shift practice for the better. As Breaking the Cycle of Defects moderator, Lauren Conceicao, NSW Deputy Executive Director Property Council of Australia said, “the risk and compliance conversation is a very important one to have and to keep having as we thrive towards rebuilding trust and confidence in the market.”
“Transparency, quality and accountability are the foundations for the new way of working,” Conceicao added.
Experts on the panel included David McCarthy, Associate Director, Major Projects Advisory at KPMG; Sean O’Hara, Principal Compliance Officer at the NSW Department of Customer Service; Matthew Press, Director, Office of the Building Commissioner at NSW Department of Customer Service; and Anna Verghese, Senior Project Manager at CBRE.
They shared their experience of proactively addressing the underlying causes of defects, outlining a number of measures industry practitioners can adopt right now to lift their performance.
Approach quality like you do safety
The construction industry has had major successes in improving safety and can apply the same thinking to how it addresses quality.
This starts with recognising “we are all responsible for quality, just like we are for safety,” David McCarthy said.
The shift will require a change of culture. Many projects have come to adopt a build-then-design process and this often contributes to failures in quality.
The solution is to adopt a similar workflow from that followed for safety, where high risk tasks are planned fully and the Safe Work Method documented before a task begins. In the quality context, that means finalising design, program planning and procurement before construction commences.
Document everything and double-check the detail
McCarthy said the industry should “get back to basics”. That means doing design properly, adopting risk-based approaches to quality management and adopting proper project controls at the design stage.
Anna Verghese said that the complex projects CBRE works on such as health sector and major commercial projects often have more stringent requirements from the end user or client. This front-loads the design stage with a more rigorous attention to detail. During the construction phase, CBRE applies a similar level of scrutiny to changes or variations, with compliance checks carried out each time.
Follow-through on processes is essential. Inspection Test Plans (ITPs) are a standard document for project quality control. However, Sean O’Hara notes that in many cases ITPs are being checked off without anyone monitoring the execution of the ITP.
There are also issues with many component certificates submitted with project documentation, according to Matthew Press.
Some the OBC has seen are “not worth the paper” they are printed on, as they are lacking in specific details of the products. For instance, they did not give details of the work they refer to, or the certificate was signed off by someone not qualified to do so, or in the worst case, the certificate was fraudulent. This highlights the need to verify that all documentation is correct, comprehensive and valid.
Get everyone on the same page
During the design phase, bring everyone together to address the design and delivery of high-risk project elements. McCarthy said this collaboration should include the suppliers, particularly when planning works like waterproofing. Contractors and design teams should be asking about the traceability of materials and achieving visibility in the supply chain – asking who is supplying materials and where those materials are coming from.
The goal is “verifying the suitability” of project construction systems from the outset. That includes ensuring there is appropriate third-party review of all high-risk project systems such as piling, post-tensioning and waterproofing.
“Get it right at the design stage,” McCarthy recommends.
Harness the power of technology
Verghese said she is seeing projects across Asia-Pacific using technology to support achieving more stringent quality controls and overall project coordination. There are three specific facets where it is proving valuable – design software adoption, platforms for coordination and compliance, and document management.
Where uptake in some jurisdictions such as NSW is lacking, is the use of BIM modeling and 3D software. Not only for design but also using an extension of BIM modeling for “something very practical, which is construction simulation, and also clash detection,” said Verghese.
“If you look globally at Asia and more so in countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, the usage of products like Revit or Navisworks for simulation in clash detection is amazing. You’re solving ninety percent of the problems that you will eventually find on a site… And it’s not just one trade you’re looking at, let’s say all the trades, mechanical, electrical, fire structure, architecture, overlaid on that model, and then checking in.”
If you have not yet levelled up to using 3D digital models or BIM across the whole project team, now is the time to start.
Address knowledge gaps
One of the primary hurdles the industry needs to overcome is lack of knowledge and lack of understanding of the finer details of compliance and best practice execution.
Around 20 percent of the NSW construction sector being examined by the Office of the NSW Building Commissioner do not document projects properly and also do not know how to build in a compliant way.
“There’s no reference document and there’s nothing to leverage off because there’s that lack of experience, they don’t know how to execute. So that’s the problem,” explained O’Hara.
The OBC is working to address this by developing an online learning management platform as part of a suite of industry reforms. The courses address some of the most common compliance issues including awareness of relevant standards for design, delivery and product supply.
“It’s really important that we make sure that we provide our industry with the right skills and capabilities here and now, but also going forward,” O’Hara said.
In the 12 months since the platform launched, around 20,000 participants from around Australia have enrolled. The participants come from every age group working in the industry, something O’Hara said demonstrates that digital learning and digital products aren’t just for the younger generation, it’s for everyone.
Value your reputation
Regulators are beginning to use digital data and record-keeping as a method of tracking practitioner performance on projects. In NSW the OBC has launched an online, searchable platform that makes data on builders, architects, engineers and other key trades transparent and visible. Other jurisdictions look set to follow this example, according to O’Hara.
McCarthy said this kind of reporting can be valuable to support best practice as it enables industry participants to “start building a DNA” around their performance and this inputs into projects. It can not only boost public and client confidence through visibility and reputation, but McCarthy said it can also act as an internal support by helping answer the question, “how confident are we as individual to be the concreter, to be the architect, to be the structural engineer? (And) that’s going to be really important going forward. It becomes our digital CV to show that we’re a trustworthy player.”
McCarthy also highlighted the value of recognising the legacy a project creates. This perspective encourages best practice because the project team then appreciates the value and quality of what it leaves behind.