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By Niall McSweeney, Senior Director, Asia Pacific | 1 April, 2020

For an industry that operates on the slimmest of profit margins, the numbers just don’t stack up.

Rectifying defective building work in Australia after a decade-long building boom could top $6.2 billion. Poor quality in the United Kingdom costs the construction industry more each year than the combined profits of the largest construction companies.

It’s widely agreed that around 5% of construction budgets are set aside for rectification and rework. But why should there be time and money in the budget for rework, but insufficient time to do the job properly in the first place?

It’s a question that many industry leaders are asking, and that the Chartered Institute of Building addresses with its new Code of Quality Management. The Code aims to address the cultural issues that have created a “race to the bottom”, caused through ignorance, indifference and a system that does not encourage best practice.

That “race to the bottom” is evident in mature construction markets around the world. In Australia, for example, researchers from Deakin and Griffith universities found 85% of strata apartments nationally, and a whopping 97% in New South Wales, have at least one significant defect. The long list of defects uncovered during this research are not surprising, but concerning given the recent  combustible cladding crisis. Issues with building fabric and cladding were the most prevalent, followed by fire protection, waterproofing, roof and rainwater disposal, and then structural issues.

The International Building Quality Centre in Canberra, launched in February, promises to examine the systems, practices and codes in place. The chair of the Centre, Kim Lovegrove, says “fractures in the pillars of building control” are challenging our assumptions about modern day building.

I agree. I’m passionate about building quality and have previously written about the shifts in mindset we must make to rethink the development model, reduce errors and better leverage technology. A new culture of quality can deliver direct benefits to the construction industry’s bottom line and restore the community’s confidence.

A commitment to quality also demands a different approach to the way we run development projects. According to the UK’s Chartered Quality Institute, quality can be distilled down to:

  1. Strong governance
    The systems and structures that underpin any organisation either help or hinder the quest for quality. A strong governance structure defines an organisation’s aims, translates them into action and holds leaders accountable for delivery.

 

  1. Robust systems of assurance
    Embedding a culture of assurance means policies, processes and plans are effectively implemented, and everyone’s efforts stay on track.

 

  1. A commitment to continuous improvement
    Quality and continuous improvement go hand-in-hand; project teams should never be satisfied with the status quo and should always be striving to do better.

 

Ultimately, the construction industry must treat quality issues in the same way it manages safety and health. That is, with clear ownership and lines communication, effective training and supervision, and robust reporting.

The chain of responsibility lies with all stakeholders to achieve and maintain best practice and restore consumer confidence. Whether you are a developer or a builder, a quantity surveyor or a project manager, it’s time for everyone in the industry to step up. Together, we can chart a new course and foster a new industry culture focused on building it right the first time, every time.

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