QM inadequate say 75% in CIOB survey

The findings from the CIOB ‘call for evidence’, which will be shared with the Hackitt Review and the Grenfell Inquiry team, present a damning picture. Will Mann reports.

Image: Dreamstime

Above: Oxgangs Primary school in Scotland was closed in 2016 after part of a wall fell away (M J Richardson)

More than three-quarters of construction professionals believe the industry’s current management of quality is inadequate, according to new research by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).

The institute’s Construction Quality Commission launched its call for evidence into construction quality in October following a series of high-profile quality failings, including the discovery of structural defects in Edinburgh PFI schools two years ago and increasing consumer dissatisfaction with new homes.

Almost 200 responses were received from CIOB members, the wider industry, other trade bodies, the insurance sector and members of the public, with the majority highly critical of construction’s quality management procedures, while also criticising building regulations, certification schemes, value engineering practices, and training and education.

“This is a reality check for construction,” said Paul Nash, past-president of the CIOB and chair of the commission. “The findings from our call for evidence show that urgent changes are required in the way quality is managed.

“Construction projects should always have sufficient resources allocated to quality management, both financial and human. But a focus on price and programme has driven the wrong behaviours, leading to quality being neglected.”

The call for evidence highlighted five key areas of concern, which centred on education and behaviours: the contractors who execute the work; the skills of the workforce; the role of designers; procurement and client-side responsibility; and governance.

What the CIOB found

A breakdown of almost 200 responses to the Quality Commission call for evidence

“These issues are industry-wide, so any solutions need to take a holistic view and involve as many stakeholders as possible,” said Nash. “But the evidence also highlighted examples of existing processes, practices and initiatives which are contributing to good quality and which can be scaled up.

“The most positive aspect that shines through is a clear willingness to improve construction quality and for industry to work together to achieve this.”

Based on the findings from the call for evidence and wider research, the commission is recommending a number of measures, Nash said.

“The first will be to develop a competency-based quality qualification/certification,” he explained. “The second will be the creation of a quality code which will capture best practice and set the standards to be expected from the industry. The third will be to ensure that quality has greater emphasis in the CIOB Education Framework.

“More detailed proposals will be presented to members at the CIOB Members’ Forum in July 2018, along with a recommended action plan for medium to longer term activities.

Specific areas of concern highlighted by respondents


“Software has been developed to make recording so easy… However, supervision and control are about being out on the workface constantly and not sitting at a computer all day.”


 “The sign-off stage needs to be quality-focused and not merely ‘get the payment and let’s hand this over’.”


“Make it personal, generate a culture of pride.”


“Developers often use private building control surveyors to circumvent regulations. Most 1930s properties have suspended timber floors and there are thousands of these properties across London that have been split into HMOs which are now a huge fire [risk].”


“[It] has led to a culture of form-filling and audits, but the industry lacks robust day-to-day checking due to the demise of the independent clerk of works role.”

Value engineering

“It’s all about building to a cost rather than building to a quality.”


“Include a quality syllabus in existing certification schemes, such as CSCS and SMSTS.”


“Innovation and technology can improve the way we perform tasks or build things but [we] will still be dependent on skilled operatives with a passion to produce good-quality work.”

“We recognise that the call for evidence has highlighted issues that will require further investigation and action beyond this year,” Nash added. “There are some issues, such as design quality, which will require collaboration with industry and other industry bodies if we are to address them.”

The CIOB will also share the findings with both the Hackitt Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety and the Grenfell Tower Inquiry team.

The call for evidence asked for views on a range of quality issues. Respondents were particularly scathing about quality management processes within construction companies. Some 84% said sign-off procedures were not adequate, 76% said the same about supervision, while 82% felt that workmanship standards were also inadequate.

Many commented on the lack of site supervision by designers and engineers, while a lack of assigned responsibility at sign-off stage was also cited. The demise of the clerk of works position was frequently commented upon.

More than half (55%) thought that existing codes and standards, including the building regulations, were not fit for purpose, and 54% said this also applied to certification schemes such as ISO 9001. It was often described as a tick-box exercise, “focused on process rather than product”.

Some respondents were critical of the “privatisation” of building control, and the way this has introduced “an element of competitiveness into the role, based on price rather than quality”. The number of available building control personnel was also seen as an issue, along with the time allocated for inspections.

Value engineering was another area of concern, with 51% saying it was no longer adhering to its principles, defined as “removing cost that does not contribute to function”. Many believe that clients regard value engineering as “a cost-cutting exercise” and were worried that it can create “an unhealthy ethos on a project”.

Overwhelmingly, respondents were critical of construction quality training, with 74% saying it was not taught effectively by educational establishments.

Mentoring schemes and onsite workshops were suggested as possible remedies, though a typical comment was that “the contractor’s bottom line means there are insufficient resources for training”.

Technology was seen as an aid to recording work progress and improving communication in the quality management process, though one surveyor said: “My iPad helps me be more efficient, but it doesn’t do my job for me.”

There was a strong belief that the CIOB could play a significant role in making changes to the construction quality system. But most respondents recognised that there was no one simple solution. Recommendations included making quality an integral part of construction management courses and trade education.

Many called on government policy to change, including more investment in training and a compulsory requirement for a quality inspector on all government projects. A widely shared opinion was that quality management should be treated and regulated in the same way as health and safety management.

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  1. Well said Dave Stitt, with the push for off site and MMC there is a possibility of losing skilled tradesmen in the future as all the assembly will be done by semi skilled , all the electrical works will be these plug and play systems the joinery will all be done in factory , same as plumbing , as the maintenance side of construction is about 55% we will need quality tradesman to carry out the works , the CITB realy need to start pulling there fingers out and ensuring that a ready stream of apprenticeships are being offered , SME can’t afford to take apprentices on due to the value engineering that is cutting costs to the bone not to mention the big players squeezing sme for payment terms , bring back the COW and stop letting anyone with a SMSTS run a site it takes more than a 5 day course to run a site

  2. This is a big issue in the industry, we focus far to much on safety and getting the job done quicker and quicker and quality of work has gone by the wayside, cost is another issue. Large sites are being run by one site manager due to saving costs, these same sites would have had a site manager and two trade foreman on them when I started. But now the main contractors expects the subcontractor to supervise his own work.

  3. I had a run in, in my previous employment, with an Architect who thought a bad design of a staircase in a public space was acceptable, as he could point to a photo of it being done somewhere else. Fortunately the managing partner agreed the risk of being sued in case of an accident was too high, and I got my way.

    In the project I’m currently on, we have to achieve 2 hours fire separation between floors at the junction with the curtain wall, as the building is a 30 storey hotel around 130m high. The design advice from our facade consultant has as I have recently found, been given negligently; his recommendations might achieve 2 hours (possibly) on integrity, but would be lucky to get to 30 minutes on insulation. Elsewhere on the same project we have a 30-storey office building where we would be lucky to 15 minutes I think of anything.

    I’ve been asking questions about both areas for now 3 years, to both facade consultant and project architect and been fobbed off for my trouble; it’s only when I’ve been specifically made responsible for delivery of the facade package in the last month, that I’ve been empowered to investigate the design and work out remedies for the flaws I’ve found.

    That just means every other flaw in design also now goes unchecked and unresolved, as the rest of the design team won’t have me in an oversight role any longer.

    The need for a quality based approach is fundamental, but I doubt many have the skills or the will to do it when it gets difficult, and even then, the pressure to ignore problems (or deny they exist) in the hope they either won’t be noticed or someone else will fix them at their own expense, tends to be high.

  4. This article touched a nerve which has been my gripe for a long time. There is a lack of respect for procedures and review in regards to quality. A lot of emphasis is made on the finish and superficial aspects of quality on a project which all and well good but there is little understanding and/or implementation of such management systems when comes to structural work. There is a lot of work to do in regards to nurturing the construction industry in this regards and the importance of. One clear example is the cracking beams mentioned on a report regarding Carillion’s hospital project

  5. It’s become the nature of the business unfortunately, you have that triangle of time, quality and cost and if you take either one of them away the other two suffer. I also believe that if you brought everything back in-house and did away with subcontractors altogether you would produce a better product but that would never happen in this day and age,
    I agree with the poor training issues, but when you have a subcontractor on site, who is on a agreed price to complete a job, he is hardly going to want to spend his time training up an apprentice, so it’s left down to the lecturer at college and their assessor to tick all the boxes.
    Quality control needs to be controlled from the top down over so each subcontractor should have their own quality controller to check their part of the job over when at various stages and on final completion

  6. A large portion of the problem is that those people who do undertake the correct checks, that do raise the awkward questions, that do act in a conscientious manner toward quality, are often viewed as “trouble-makers or difficult”; and they rarely receive the support they deserve and that is required if the correct standards are to be met.

    Everyone agrees that the industry culture needs to change; to my mind the change must be driven by Clients as it is they who ultimately pay for sub-standard works and therefore they who, consciously or sub-consciously, condone the completion of sub-standard works.

  7. This is both good and bad news. On the one hand it shows that we the CIOB are standing behind the ‘for the public benefit’ element of the Charities Commission requirement, on the other hand we really need to look at what we are turning out from Universities, graduates expectation salarywise and their complete lack of experience on site, knowledge of ‘how things should be done’ by competant tradesmen, which involves years of training and experience. We’ve set the ball rolling, now we need to direct it.

  8. 100% agree with both comments made and the specific areas of concerns raised. Site Mangers spend 70% of their time looking at a laptop. With Construction companies signed up for ISO 9001 Quality Management Certification this means the Site Manager has to scan every H&S document onto the laptop then load onto whatever internal system they have in place. Penny wise and Pound foolish mentality so if they are lucky enough to have an Assistant Site Manager who hopefully has a trade background they can walk the floors and check the standards of workmanship. For me nothing beats experience a good tradesman with many years on the tools who then moves onto the Management path his/her eyes have witnessed most things on site and can spot bad workmanship and habits a mile away – unfortunately we are stuck behind a screen.

  9. If we talk about quality in execution the best approach is to motivate the first line worker to do his job correctly. No matter how many site mangers you have on a site if the front worker is not motivated to work properly you will have defects and rework. When you hand them over the job they need to receive detailed instructions about quality requirements and you must have regular discussions with them how they will achieve this objective. They must have pride in their work and receive appreciation for their work.

  10. Low prelims and poor culture – 2 areas I would certainly look at. Health & Safety has improved massively in last 10-20 years through effective leadership in changing the culture of the industry. Quality doesn’t get the same emphasis and is more about ticking a box than actual standards on site being achieved. The CoW position needs to be mandatory. Also I think that maybe more emphasis has been placed on service quality in recent years rather than product quality. The two should go hand in hand but if the client doesn’t have a CoW checking then service quality is the only thing they ‘see’.

  11. What a surprise, how has it taken this long to realise cash is king.
    I have been disheartened by our industry practices for years, so much so, I stopped trying.
    Health & safety should never be compromised or used as a waiver.
    Employ enough qualified and correctly trained supervisors to monitor the trades deployed, designers and engineers should need only consultation when a supervisor cannot interpret the detail confidently.
    Most of all, stop pressuring the site supervision and give them time to put right/correct/instruct and effectively ensure the quality standards are met without compromise.

  12. Having taken part in the survey I am disappointed with the lack of response and that merely 200 responses seems to be suggesting recommendations that the whole industry should be taking. I appreciate that the survey was undertaken with good meaning but it does seem to me that we have a working party that are now scraping the barrel to justify themselves. Surely with such a meagre response a decision should have been taken to gain more of an insight or change to questionnaire?

    Anyway, having received the feedback from the 200 the commission recommends a qualification? Really? Do we really need to inspire passion, commitment. professionalism, cooperation and enthusiasm within our industry by sending people to a classroom? I don’t know about anyone else but my days in lecture rooms (or more likely, the cold, stuffy unused boardroom of a licensed training provider) were some of the least inspiring days of my 30-year career in the industry.

    The commission will then recommend the creation of a quality code. Wow, I can see the change happening almost immediately. Sorry for being so sarcastic, but the industry does not need more guidelines. We have guidelines for guidelines and all that will happen is that some junior will be given the “quality code” and be given the opportunity to embrace it.

    Sorry but I could go through the rest of the recommendations in a similar fashion. What I feel should be done Is that this commission should show their own passion, commitment, professionalism, cooperation and enthusiasm by joining with Colin Harding and Chris Blythe and their most recent articles and calling for real change to an industry that is signalling its end in the most devastating of ways.

  13. The current project I am working on, in an Asian country, could be used as an example of what can go wrong if nobody really tries to take quality seriously (or project management, design management etc.).

    Our client is a developer, with a track record of ‘luxury’ developments, all of which are (relative to the UK) quite poor quality. It also has a track record of ‘working with’ contractors who are more than happy to cut corners to get the job done on time, even if that means actually handing over with the project incomplete. In my opinion, the client would struggle to be competent to instruct construction of a shed, let alone a massive, multi-purpose development.

    This client appointed as its “Starchitect” someone who was not an Architect, whose practice existed mainly in its owners imagination (in the UK). They did this on the basis of a mix of wishful thinking and hopeful promises. The practice really should not have been appointed for anything beyond concept stage, as it is barely capable of designing and documenting a house in a timely, professional manner, let alone a project of 400,000+ sq.m. Anyway, they were appointed, and most of the design was done initially by either students or inexperienced graduates, so you guess the quality of the design, before being turned over to a documentation team that was in a 3rd country.

    These consultants were appointed in piecemeal, fragmented fashion, the Architects alone having reputedly something in the order of 20 separate appointments to cover the work. These firms were also never big enough really for this project either, but being appointed piecemeal meant this was never raised as an issue. Having been appointed, such limited fees as were agreed were bled dry in constant rounds of changes from the client, who has never accepted the need to work professionally, record discussions, agreements and so on, or take responsibility for the consequences of repeated, extensive change in the middle of a documentation programme. Most of the fees for the consultants was spent before they even started what they were employed to do, and consequently the technical information release was partial and well short of what RIBA Stage 4 would recommend, and any contractor in a traditional contract would want.

    The contractor themselves, were appointed after lengthy negotiation, which didn’t focus on the contractor’s ability to manage quality, but the ability of its cost managers (in house) to agree a price that was never going to be enough. The client wasn’t too worried about that, after all, a contract is a contract, right? Even if the contractor losing considerable sums in performing obligations isn’t the best way to start, a contract is a contract!

    Well, we are now more than 4 years on from contract signing, and is unlikely to finish most of us think, in the next 2 years.

    Will it go wrong, do you think?

  14. Whilst I agree with most of the survey comments (having bothered to take part myself), I don’t think this can really be taken as a representative survey as only “Almost 200 responses” were received.
    How many CIOB members, and others, were invited to take part?
    And only less than 200 bothered to respond – that’s quite telling in itself.

  15. What are CIOB members interested in?

    With only 0.4% of the membership responding to the Quality Commission call for evidence I wonder if the nation’s professional builders are that interested in “Quality”. Maybe that’s the problem.
    I am really disappointed that less than 200 (out of 47,000) responded. It has left me wondering what CIOB members are really interested in as evidenced by their actions.

    So I am wondering: How many people vote at Trustee Elections? How many people turn up to CIOB events and what is the trend? How many people put themselves forward for CM of Year Award? How many people engage in forums like this? What is the most popular thing that happened in CIOB in 2017 …… where are the members engaged?

    Also, how are members engaged in CIOB Purpose “To represent, train, develop and continuously support excellent leaders in the industry”? (ref CIOB 2016 Annual Review and Accounts)

    I am asking because I would really like to know – who is watching the members’ engagement dashboard? It looks to me like the quality dial is flickering at zero. Which of the other dials are moving and showing some life?

    And how can the CIOB’s voice be taken seriously at Grenfell and the like when only 0.4% or thereabouts have responded to this important Commission?

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