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By Niall McSweeney, Senior Director, Asia Pacific | 2 October, 2019

Quality is as important as safety – and we need to start taking it as seriously.

Combustible high-rise cladding, building defect lists a mile long, a culture of non-compliance and the life-threatening consequences have captured headlines and headspace around the world. Is the construction industry in crisis?

Questions of quality

  • In Australia, as apartment owners walk away from virtually worthless assets, the University of New South Wales has found that 85 per cent of new apartment buildings have defects on completion – mostly with waterproofing and fire detection systems. Although it is normal for buildings to have minor issues upon completion, the level of issues being uncovered are beyond the historic norms.

  • In England, building regulators continue to grapple with the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which claimed the lives of 72 people. While combustible cladding has received most media attention, non-compliance with building standards also contributed to the loss of life.

  • In Scotland,  Professor John Cole’s recent review of building standards compliance and enforcement has found staggeringly simple errors could seriously compromise the safety of building users. A school wall collapse, for example, occurred because wall ties – each costing just a few cents – were incorrectly installed and reduced the building’s structural capacity.

What needs to change?

The development model

Firstly, Australia’s development model isn’t currently designed to support quality construction. Most purchasers don’t mind paying more for quality – they just want to know they got what they paid for. But the classic development model of ‘build, sell and move on’ doesn’t align with the long-term objectives of those buying the products. Purchasers want assurance that an asset will maintain its quality – and therefore hold its value – for decades.

Error reduction

Affordability, especially in the residential sector, is a real issue, and the cost of building invariably drives up the cost of the product. But research from the UK has found that 21 per cent of total construction costs is due to error – and compromised quality can be an even bigger cost burden.

Shift in mindset

At the same time, we need a collective mindset shift on construction sites. We recognise that safety in construction is everyone’s responsibility – but we don’t have the same attitude to quality. People aren’t on site looking out for issues that could erode quality.

It’s true that a quality issue doesn’t have the same immediate implications as safety on site. A ladder leaning precariously against a wall can be life threatening, while incorrectly installed insulation may never be noticed. But a growing body of evidence finds a compelling correlation between the rework and injuries – underscoring the link between safety and quality.

Leveraging technology

The fourth solution is to make technology work harder for us. The right technology in the right hands can support a culture of quality and provide asset owners with the assurance they need that their investment will last the distance.

Imagine having a record of every piece of ductwork and pipework in situ before a building’s walls are lined? And imagine uploading those pictures to the cloud as a permanent record of the building’s quality? Would that reassure potential buyers that they were making the right investment? You bet it would.

The bottom line is clear. The first obligation of our industry must be to construct buildings that are safe. Poor quality construction is likely to deliver unsafe buildings. For any changes to be effective it requires the input and backing from a range of experts. Quality is as important as safety – and we need to start taking it as seriously. So, let’s start looking out for quality.

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