The High Cost of Construction Defects
Most failures can be traced back to the designers’ or builders’ blatant disregard of codes or laws, but not every structural failure happens because of criminal negligence. Below are a few of the world’s largest construction disasters—ones that stemmed from workday oversights, shortcuts, and gaps in communication, yet had deadly consequences. Unfortunately, all of these tragic examples could have been prevented by a good quality control program and better communication amongst project team members.
The above examples demonstrate that quality control is more than just a nicety on the job site. With procedures developed over years and in response to real-world conditions, managing quality goes far beyond product refinement and can have life or death consequences. Still, not every structural defect or safety lapse ends in catastrophe. More commonly, the costs associated with such mistakes are small. But even these costs, when considered cumulatively, are significant.
Quality Control: Inspect it Now or Fix it Later
A quality control (QC) program can help drive the success of construction projects by ensuring contract and safety requirements are met—and work is done right the first time. For general contractors tasked with QC responsibilities, this means making sure the project is built to plan, specifications, industry and safety standards, and requirements set by the architect, engineer, and owner.
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Typically part of a project-specific Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC) plan, QC relies heavily on inspections during all phases of construction. When superintendents, project managers, and/or dedicated QC staff follow a rigorous field inspection schedule and daily safety checks, they can identify problems and take measures to correct any oversights before they lead to more expensive—or dangerous—issues.
Whereas a QA plan is part of early-stage project planning to lay the groundwork and formulate processes that will lead to the best outcomes, QC activities occur throughout the project to determine whether the results of completed work meet criteria outlined in the QA plan. In addition to inspections of all types, QC includes conducting audits—based on metrics that have been established early in the project’s front-end planning—to aggressively benchmark quality throughout construction. Maintaining an ongoing list of corrective items that must be accomplished before the responsible subcontractor is paid or leaves the job is also essential.
It all boils down to identifying issues as they happen, and addressing them before they become bigger problems that could impact the project deadline and budget, your reputation, and— most importantly—the safety of job site workers and end users.
Good Communication is Critical
Limited communication between field staff, contractors, designers, and engineers can lead to costly project delays as well as devastating construction defects. Detailed record-keeping that includes completed inspection forms, project photos illustrating issues, and dated sign-o forms can help provide project insight. But keeping records is only half the story; simply having records adds no value if nobody sees them. A key component of QC is making sure the appropriate stakeholders can access the records. These stakeholders can include, but are not limited to:
• Project owners
• General contractors
• Field staff (superintendents, project managers, project engineers, etc.)
• Dedicated QC personnel
Even a relatively small construction project can be complex, involving many players in the QC process to ensure its success. On large projects, the scale and number of details involved in construction inspections, and the paperwork they generate, can become staggering. Making inspection data transparent and available to team members and project partners can become a time-consuming, paper-shuffling nightmare. Hardcopies can get lost, leading to deficient items going unnoticed and unresolved.
For this reason, an increasing number of construction firms are choosing to digitize their QC processes. New software tools are making the work easier, and the inspection results are simpler to share across the entire project team. Important documents will no longer get lost in the paper shuffle, so decisions can be made based on the most complete and up-to-date information.
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