Clerks of Works are at the forefront of championing quality in UK Construction

Over the past two years we have seen damaging and devastating examples in both Scotland and England of how defective and ineffectual work can have tragic consequences when a construction project is not effectively managed.

It is therefore not surprising that Clerks of Works who are solely employed to inspect the quality of the build are both topical and are in demand and are seeing more and more appointments on projects to independently manage quality and to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of their clients on site.

Clerks of Works are known by several names; Site Inspectors, Quality Assessors and NEC Supervisors. They ensure that there is a focus on ‘quality’ without the distraction of also being responsible for cost, programme and Health and Safety.

They also provide protection against the reputational damage of high-profile failures in addition to giving protection against costly mistakes and delays – so why wouldn’t their specialist skills be utilised to improve quality?

 

Changing attitudes

In some parts of the construction industry there remains an attitude that independent inspection is unnecessary as contractors and their subcontractors are paid handsomely to provide the necessary standards, so why should further expense be paid out?

In the ideal world this would be true but, sadly this is still not the case. If you look at the car manufacturing industry as an example, Quality Control Inspectors are continually used for automated repeat work to ensure that quality control is checked during the production to ensure that the finished product is correct, safe and to avoid future recall. So surely there is more of a need on site for quality control where jobs are usually ‘one-off’ bespoke projects. It is better to have inspectors acting as useful and practical insurance policies rather than relying on collateral warranties and lawyers after the horse has bolted so to speak.

We have undertaken research which demonstrates that the risk of failure due to defective work during construction can be reduced by as much as 60% by employing a reputable Clerk of Works consultancy. The cost of employing a Clerk of Works is a fraction of the construction cost especially when problems are prevented.

 

Problems with UK construction

Construction is a fragmented industry in which ‘one-off’ teams are assembled to deliver complex projects. Main Contractors invariably sub-let the works on a package basis. These 2nd tier contractors in turn usually use sub-contract labour and accountability for quality is inevitably lost.

Generally, there is a lack of apprenticeships and training in the industry which has resulted in a skills shortage in most trades.

Cost and time remain the key considerations for most projects; albeit the management of Health and Safety has improved greatly since the 1970’s which is a good thing but the awareness of the management of quality has not been given the same focus.

 

Clerks of Works improve quality   

There are several forms of contract used in the construction industry; the most common being Design and Build. The pressures of competitive pricing, protracted procurement and programme demands often result in sub-contract designs defaulting to standard details. This can lead to non-standard parts of the works being built without a properly considered design detail. Also designs can be changed on site as subcontractors provide value engineered alternatives. There is more chance of the design being uncoordinated which leads to unresolved interfaces between trades. Clerks of Works can aid in looking at construction packages for ease of buildability.

There can be a mindset of focusing on producing records of inspections rather than thoroughly checking the quality of whatever is being inspected. Tick lists for records are no substitute for practical knowledge.

Quality is often set by the tradesmen undertaking works rather than quoted British Standard and/or samples. The pressure of programme dates, inexperienced management and minimal supervision by the main contractor can lead to defects being overlooked and being covered up as the project proceeds.

Our own recent company analysis of 45 active projects where we have a Clerk of Works on site, showed that we had identified 313 Building and M&E defects; most of which would have gone unchallenged had we not been there.

Without a regime of quality control, sub-standard buildings with latent defects are more likely to occur with subsequent disruption post-practical completion.

 

Why we are passionate about championing quality in construction

Involving Quality Site Inspectors in the agreements for quality plans ensures that quality is properly addressed, and all necessary hold points and inspections are carried out working to drawings and specifications rather than from memory which often occurs and why, so many faults can occur.

Our Clerks of Works are at the forefront of championing quality in construction and use their skills and expertise to help site teams. Leading developers such as Derwent London are now employing our Quality Site Inspectors as part of an initiative to ensure that schemes are built to the standards specified by architects and positively highlights that perceptions are now changing.

When it comes to choosing an independent assessor to work on construction projects, we understand that it’s important to a client to partner with a reputable company that shares the same passion for quality. At Hickton, our entire team understands that a project is important and needs constructing to the standards specified in the agreed contracts. Our longstanding reputation demonstrates that we are a company that can be trusted to help this process.

News item written by Tony Mobbs, Managing Director, Hickton