Reducing Defects In The Construction Industry Construction Essay

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Many construction companies in Mauritius are facing severe competition where profit margin is constantly being put under pressure. There are added costs associated with non conformance while undergoing construction and defects thereafter .The non conformance cost is causing great prejudice to construction companies in terms of time, quality and money. In trying to reduce these defects and non conformance, the construction companies can optimize profit by providing quality work and reduce construction time and cost.

Defects arise due to two main reasons - nature and human errors. All buildings eventually develop defects when exposed to the degrading effects of nature. Proper maintenance and the avoidance of human error may delay the process (Low, 2001). However, in some instances, human error alone may be the cause of the defect (Porteous, 1992). Human error as a cause of defects, on the other hand, is much less documented and the whole range of possible errors are often described within the general term of "negligence". It is a convenient way of generalization and according blame to seek redress through legal means but it does not shed light into the actual cause of the defect, without which corrective and preventive action cannot be taken (Porteous, 1992). Errors, oversights, lack of care and fallibility of people that initiate, design, construct and maintain buildings, accentuated by their educational, practice and commercial environments are the main contributors to defects (Kaplan, 1994). In the course of performing their tasks, humans commit errors which may result in defects.


A building is defective when there is a failure or shortcoming in the function, performance, statutory or user requirements of the structure, fabric, services or other facilities(Low, 2001) . This need not be to the extent of complete catastrophic failure (Porteous, 1992). Rain penetration, condensation, cracking and detachment account for almost 68 per cent of all defects reported (Trotman, 1994).

This is where the importance of applying strict quality control is required to reduce non-conformance.

According to Low (1993) there are five schools of thought within the construction industry, each seeking to define the meaning of quality. These are classified as follows: fitness for purpose; conformance to specifications; fitness for purpose and conformance to specifications; systems approach: technical rationality; and systems approach: socio-technical rationality.

Low (1993) therefore felt that quality is a multi-faceted concept and should be approached and managed as such. Chung (1999) recognized this need and in doing so holistically defined construction quality to mean the satisfaction of requirements of all parties to the construction project - meeting contractual requirements of the client, legislative and regulatory requirements of the authorities, social requirements of the public and even cost requirements of the contractor.

A slightly less explicit but nevertheless still all-embracing approach is adopted by the ISO when they define quality as the "totality of characteristics of a product, process, organization, person, activity or system that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs" (ISO, 1994). Taking a building as a frame of reference, should the whole structure or any component part of it not meet the client's needs that were stated contractually or otherwise, the building designer or constructor would have failed in supplying the quality required for that building..

Despite the different interpretations of quality by many knowledgeable researchers one cannot deny that quality has developed into the most important competitive weapon these days. (Oakland, 1993).

In the general context of management, quality is defined as:

"The totality of features and characteristics of a product that bears on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs." (ISO 1994a, cited in Chung 1999).

Quality means a lot of different things to different people (Bank, 2000).

Construction quality in particular, however, is seen as very difficult to define due to the uniqueness of the construction product and the different professionals and tradesmen involved in a single construction project (Chung, 1999).

Chung (1999) reveals that, the nature of projects means there will be different professionals and tradesmen responsible for the finished building product, as a result, if a fault was to appear years later, it will de difficult to identify the source of the problem. Therefore, the different professionals working on a project need to have separate quality management systems that will assure adherence to the contractual requirements.

Since all construction projects are not similar and once completed are rarely irreversible. It is a one-off unique undertaking that is constrained by the goal of meeting time, cost and performance (Meredith and Mantel, 1995). These three are inextricably linked such that altering one will undoubtedly have an effect on the others. Required performance can be said to represent quality, according to Crosby, (1984), who describes quality as simply: "conformance to requirements." (p 59).

In an industry that has for a long time been viewed as resistant to change and benchmarked internationally as simply uncompetitive, quality initiatives need to be embraced to shake off such an image, which prevents construction companies from gaining a competitive advantage internationally. (European Construction Institute,1993).

Quality needs to become the new business philosophy of any organisation. Kruger,(2001).

Within the construction industry clients are increasingly expecting both consultants and contractors to possess an ISO 9001 certificate as a requirement of their employment (Hughes, 1997).

Hughes argues that a company's motivation and methods used to develop a system are a more accurate measure of the system's likely effectiveness. The two implementation methods used by companies are the comprehensive and analytical approaches. The comprehensive approach tends to be associated with "badge hunting" motives while the analytical approach tends to demonstrate the company's desire to improve its organisational effectiveness.

The comprehensive approach is linked with the employment of consultants which leads to larger quality manuals and a lack of staff willingness to use them. Hughes suggests that if clients want a true measure of quality within the company they are better advised to examine the prospective company's motivation and implementation approach rather than appoint a company on the possession of a certificate.

In his study Hughes identifies the two principal motives for companies achieving accreditation to ISO 9000; these are badge hunting or marketing reasons invariably prompted by client pressure to achieve accreditation and secondly to achieve improved organizational effectiveness.

The analytical approach is a strategy involving the improvement in organisational effectiveness over the long term with affecting cost of production and the sales and revenue. The comprehensive approach is a tactical initiative which will affect sales and revenue over the short term.

Hoxley maintains that the introduction of quality management system into a company is a strategic value adding and cost reducing mechanism (2000).

The definition of quality is a complex matter. Barrett identifies function, aesthetics, cost and time as the main dimensions of quality in construction (2000). The introduction of quality assurance into the industry helps to manage these dimensions.

When firms undertake the implementation of the ISO standards it involves great cost and time. The ISO standards do not guarantee quality of service to the client however it does mean that firms have a detailed documented approach to achieving consistent quality of service.

Hobbs states that the principals of QA provide a sustainable basis for the consistent, sound, management of a construction economist firm from policies through to proof sound performance (1993).

Quality assurance is a management tool for recording the flow of information through the firm however it doesn't make construction economists better at their service but helps to reassure client's that firms are double checking their work.

For the time being the public sector clients do not require their construction professionals to prove that they have a quality assurance system in place but will be surely coming with appropriate legislation in the near future.

Firms need to "say what they do and do what they say" in their quality assurance system if the system is to be successful (Harlow, 2009).


An organisation will benefit from establishing an effective quality management system (QMS). The cornerstone of a quality organisation is the concept of the customer and supplier working together for their mutual benefit. For this to become effective, the customer-supplier interfaces must extend into, and outside of, the organisation, beyond the immediate customers and suppliers.

A QMS can be defined as:

"A set of co-ordinated activities to direct and control an organisation in order to continually improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its performance."

These activities interact and are affected by being in the system, so the isolation and study of each one in detail will not necessarily lead to an understanding of the system as a whole. The main thrust of a QMS is in defining the processes, which will result in the production of quality products and services, rather than in detecting defective products or services after they have been produced.

The benefits of a QMS

A fully documented QMS will ensure that two important requirements are met:

• The customers' requirements - confidence in the ability of the organisation to deliver the desired product and service consistently meeting their needs and expectations.

• The organisation's requirements - both internally and externally, and at an optimum cost with efficient use of the available resources - materials, human, technology and information.

These requirements can only be truly met if objective evidence is provided, in the form of information and data, to support the system activities, from the ultimate supplier to the ultimate customer.

A QMS enables an organisation to achieve the goals and objectives set out in its policy and strategy. It provides consistency and satisfaction in terms of methods, materials, equipment, etc, and interacts with all activities of the organisation, beginning with the identification of customer requirements and ending with their satisfaction, at every transaction interface.

Barrett, P. (2000), Systems and relationships for construction quality, International Journal of

Quality & Reliability Management, Vol.17, 377-92

Crosby. P.B. (1984) Quality without tears - Hassle Free Management, New York, McGraw-Hill

Chung, H.W. (1999), Understanding Quality Assurance in Construction: A Practical Guide to ISO9000, E & FN Spon, London., .

Hughes, T. & Ryall, P.V (1997), Does the possession of the ISO 9000 certificate provide a measure of quality?, RICS, London

Kruger, V. (2001) Main schools of TQM: " The big five" The TQM Magazine (13:3) pp 146 - 155

Low, S.P. (1993), "The rationalization of quality in the construction industry: some empirical findings", Construction Management and Economics, Vol. 11 No.2, pp.247-59.

Low, S.P. (2001), "Improving maintenance and reducing building defects through iso 9000", Quality in Maintenance Engineering, Vol. 7 No.1, pp.6-24.

Meredith, J.R and Mantel, S.J (1995) Project Management: A managerial Approach. New York, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Oakland, J.S. (1993) Total Quality Management. - The route to improving performance.. Oxford, Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd.

Porteous, W.A. (1992), "Classifying building failure by cause", Building Research and Information, Vol. 20 No.6, pp.350-6..

Seymour, D., Low, S.P. (1990), "The quality debate", Construction Management and Economics, Vol. 8 No.1, pp.13-29.