This week: In the light of evidence that QA documents were falsified at BNFL, how robust are the QA systems in construction?
I do not believe any QA certificate is worth the paper it is written on. The surprise is not that QA certificates have been falsified, but that it has taken so long to discover them.
In the early 1990s, I worked on the design of projects where BSI-approved QA schemes were in force, but much of the certification was done the day before the (pre-announced) arrival of the independent QA auditor.
Such is the pressure due to impossible deadlines and lack of resources in many design offices, the production of the calculations and drawings is a Herculean task. Anything which is not essential in the panic to issue the drawings goes by the wayside. Senior staff do not always take the QA process seriously, often regarding it as bureaucratic nuisance rather than an aid to efficient work. In such an atmosphere, no QA scheme can be expected to work.
James Markland, 43, ILO chief technical adviser, Feeder Road Programme, Mozambique
I do not currently work in construction but when I did, and was technical manager for a contractor working on an oil refinery in Abu Dhabi, the QA system was very detailed, accurate and subject to client checking at any time. It also generated huge quantities of paper. On the face of it, a really good QA system.
But the reality was that had I been totally stupid. I could possibly have 'adjusted' results. In practice, the system gave me, as a contractor, a well-documented evidenced safeguard for our workmanship and that is what I wanted.
Dudley Swain, performance manager, Devon County Council
QA is a matter of company culture. Where the principles are understood and QA is supported at all levels of a construction organisation, it will generally be robust. Where it is reduced to a paperwork exercise for the sake of certification, errors are inevitable. Unfortunately, the margins in construction often mean quality is ultimately compromised.
Jim Raymond, principal engineer, Montgomery Watson
QA is a rigorous control mechanism for a common sense approach to achieving end quality. Where QA becomes too verbose, cumbersome and bureaucratic, or an end in itself, it is likely to fail: as at BNFL.
John Rhodes, engineer compliance, Bristol
Quality systems need to be made to work to support the business processes. They need commitment from senior management with regular auditing (appropriately independent from time to time) and the actions arising from them must be seen to be dealt with quickly and responsibly.
Steve Whipp, 46, business area manager, Water plc
QA is a professional matter. Engineers should complete their task honestly, no matter how bad the message. Commercial considerations may prompt short term lies but in the long term you always get caught out. I hope integrity and audit procedures ensure robust systems.
Ian Jenkinson, head of Technical & Amenity Services.