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Cover Your A$$: Real Time Quality Assurance at the Job Site


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When it comes to construction, there’s getting the job done...and there’s getting the job done right.

As with most systems, this involves a series of quality and safety checks. During project build-out, one of the most important checks is the completion of regular inspections.

For as long as there have been building codes and standards, inspections have been an important part of the construction process. As a result, inspection routines are a familiar, and somewhat entrenched, part of any project’s workflow. In recent years, however, technological changes and market regulations have brought construction quality and safety issues into the spotlight.

With the ever-present problem of construction risk, having the ability to leverage new digital technologies to improve inspections is a boon for companies.

New software tools are making work more efficient and saving companies millions of dollars.

I. Formalized Quality Management

Part of early-stage project planning (and related project management goal-setting) is the establishment of a project-specific quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) plan or quality management plan. Quality assurance (QA) plans focus on laying groundwork and articulating the processes that will lead to the best results. Quality control (QC) is a set of activities that determine whether the results of work performed meet the criteria that were outlined in the QA plan, which means QC relies heavily on inspections.

Like many construction practices, it may seem as though inspections are such an established part of the process that making changes won’t result in significant added value. But the changes coming to the  field aren’t peripheral. In addition to changing work habits, they improve outcomes.

Typically, formalized QC processes involve site supervision and a rigorous field inspection schedule. Audits, using metrics that have been established early in the project’s front-end planning, are used to aggressively benchmark quality throughout construction. Existing QC systems established by large national and international organizations often serve as models for construction firms to base their own QC systems upon.

Two popular systems are the phases of control developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 9000 Standards.

USACE Phases of Control

The three phases of control developed by the USACE form the basis of the Corps’ Construction Quality Management Systems for all military- related QC and represent good ‘checkpoints’ for any project. They include:

Phase 1 Preparatory Phase.
This phase is performed prior to beginning work on each definable feature of work. The project team reviews existing site conditions as well as applicable work procedures, safety hazards, equipment, and materials.

Phase 2 Initial Phase.
This phase is accomplished at the beginning of a definable work feature and verifies that control for the work developed in the Preparatory Phase is implemented. The project team should check preliminary work to con rm that workmanship meets expectations and resolve any differences and all work should be in compliance with the safety plan.

Phase 3 Follow-up Phase.
This phase consists of regular—often daily—monitoring of construction to assure compliance with contract requirements through completion of a definable feature of work. Records of quality checks should be documented, and any deficiencies should be corrected prior to beginning the next feature of work.

ISO 9000 Standards

ISO, the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards, created the widely used ISO 9000 family of quality management standards. The 9000 series is based upon eight quality management principles:

  1. Customer focus
  2. Leadership
  3. Involvement of people
  4. Process approach
  5. System approach to management
  6. Continual improvement
  7. Factual approach to decision making
  8. Mutually beneficial supplier relationships

Foundational documents within the ISO 9000 series include ISO 9001:2008, which sets forth the requirements for a quality management system, and ISO 9000:2005, which introduces basic quality management concepts and language.

Aligning your company’s QC efforts with these proven methods gives your company credibility with owners, who are increasingly differentiating contractors based upon QC operations in the field.

II. Inspections: The Never-Ending Paper Trail

Like many construction practices, it may seem as though inspections are such an established part of the process that making changes won’t result in significant added value. But the changes coming to the  field aren’t peripheral. In addition to changing work habits, they improve outcomes.

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Traditionally, inspection forms are completed using pen and paper. Pages are signed and dated by the inspector, catalogued in binders, and then shelved for reference. When you’re on the job site performing an inspection, all of the “moving parts” make sense: with form in hand, you work your way through the checklist, making notes and taking photos to document and support your findings. All of those notes and photos are logically linked together to form a cohesive whole. But with an end product that involves hundreds of individual paper items, that cohesion falls apart.

On large projects, the scale and number of details involved in construction inspections are overwhelming. Consider the following:

  • Building inspectors must examine a variety of construction details and assess them for compliance with local and national building codes, zoning laws, and contract specifications.
  • Commercial construction inspections must be undertaken for all building systems (foundation work, framing, mechanical systems, roofing, plumbing, electrical, etc.) and performed at multiple stages of building completion. 
  • Quality control efforts also address owner requirements and material manufacturer recommendations.
  • Inspector responsibilities can range from materials and soil testing to regional issues of concern (such as seismic activity in California or wind loads in the hurricane-prone states of the southeast).

The inspection process, then, is a labor- and knowledge-intensive one. The complexity of the situation can make it challenging for stakeholders within the hierarchy, including owners, to get insight into a project.

Download the rest of the free eBook, "Cover Your A$$: Real Time Quality Assurance at the Job Site" to discover how real time quality assurance at the job site improves your firm’s security and mitigates risk by creating a more inclusive and complete record.

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