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Self certification Debate

Construction is struggling to become more efficient and to deliver a better product by adopting new ways of working. Giving contractors' responsibility for guaranteeing the quality of their work is one way to cut costs and save time. But are quality and s

Yes

The provision of a quality product is fundamental to successful project delivery.

Under previous arrangements the contractor's team has been tasked with constructing to the satisfaction of the client's representative. However countless projects have demonstrated that quality cannot be inspected into a product. It must be built in.

This is achieved by making the whole workforce responsible for the delivery of the specification requirements. The concept of self certification is a major step change for the industry being driven by new forms of contract in which Balfour Beatty has gained significant experience.

Its adoption involves contract specific training for management/workforce teams in the detailed requirements of the specification and the development of trust between client and contractor, minimising the waste associated with the provision of teams of inspectors. It also reduces rework through commitment to the provision of a quality product by all the parties involved in the construction process.

On Contract 440 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link project, the site team, including all construction partners, continually reviews whether or not they are achieving the specification. The production team, not a quality arbiter, takes full responsibility for their work and notifies any non-conformity, however minor.

In support, 20 team members have been trained and appointed to audit the decisions of the production team to progress work beyond specified Hold Points. A UKAS accredited Balfour Beatty site laboratory ensures that the materials and, in some cases finished elements of the Works, are compliant to the letter of the specification.

This self certification process is designed to produce a quality job, on time and at the lowest out-turn cost.

It will be my name on the Construction Certificates stating that the works have been constructed to the specification requirements and I need to be 100% confident that the self-certification system in place works.

And I am.

No

Most structures are unique and require careful planning and execution. The ISO 9000 series of standards is commendable in its intent and few organisations set out to provide poor quality.

However, my own experience tells me that many clients do not get what they have specified. There is no guarantee of quality or fitness for purpose with ISO 9000.

Within the construction industry the temptation to use cheaper materials and reduce standards of workmanship in order to improve margins has never been greater. Also, some features are very difficult to verify retrospectively.

Structural steelwork can look good when delivered to site, but may need expensive paint remedial work soon after exposure to the weather. Often, this may have been caused by poor surface preparation or inappropriate application conditions, neither of which are readily visible from the finish article at site.

The suppliers' certificate of conformance is poor comfort to a client faced with disruptive remedial works. A legally enforceable contract, to construct in accordance with the drawings and specification, with the ability to claim compensation through arbitration is all well and good. However, it can be very time consuming and inconvenient.

Construction is not like Tesco's. No replacement is offered. The best one gets is the remedial work paid for.

Many construction defects are attributable to busy managers. Typical errors would include: order the wrong materials, issuing superseded drawings, providing an inadequate working environment or unsuitable equipment and using an inappropriate construction.

Many people do not spot their own errors, and those that do may not be keen to broadcast them. A further difficult decision rests with the employing organisation, if the error is bought to their attention and it is very costly, is it in their own interests to do anything about it?

Self certification is only part of the assurance clients need. The wise person also checks that they have actually received what they have paid for.

The facts

Under partnering arrangements, contractors are increasingly responsible for certifying the quality of their own work.

High court judges in recent prosecutions after the Heathrow Express and the Ramsgate walkway collapses were critical of selfcertification as a contributing factor in the disasters.

Quality assurance schemes such as ISO 9000 show that companies can justify and prove that their work is of an agreed quality.

Quality assurance schemes cannot guarantee that a quality product will be delivered.

Commercial pressures in construction can still force 'corners to be cut'. Typical construction firms still struggle to make margins above 3%.

The New Engineering Contract puts more emphasis on the contractor certifying the quality of his own work rather than having a clerk of works to approve activities.

Recent reviews by Sir Michael Latham and Sir John Egan have recommended more widespread adoption of contracts such as the NEC in the industry.

Defects in construction cost the industry millions of pounds in lost production each year. The Egan review has set a target to reduce these defects by 20% a year.

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