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Standards certification systems may fall short

Ben Bowsher, executive director, UK Cares, discusses certification and risk management acccreditation in the UK and calls for similar measures in the UAE.

BEN BOWSHER: Quality should be protected.
BEN BOWSHER: Quality should be protected.

In considering certification and risk management procedures required for construction, let's first take a look at accredited third party certification in the UK.

There, the first certification processes were second party, with buyers auditing suppliers. In many industries, large numbers of 'quality professionals' were employed either to audit or to receive auditors, until it was recognised that multiple assessments were actually harming the industry.

This continued until 1972 when a government white paper promoted the establishment of accredited third party certification to reduce multiple assessments.

Major industries endorsed this idea and acted to withdraw their own second party certification processes in favour of a new third party approach.

In 1983, the Department of Trade and Industry reviewed the quality infrastructure and the use of second party certification as a qualification process.

This review accepted the proposals for an independent third party certification approach but warned that its independence could compromise its ability to meet the needs of specialised industry sectors.

It concluded that independent assessments should use second party assessment skills, companies should encourage the use of quality systems in terms of product certification and that benefits could be gained from product assessment.

Accreditation

Accreditation, now operated by UKAS in the UK, was established to give credibility to the third party certification process and help provide confidence in certificated firms' products. Its aims included increasing standards, eliminating multiple assessments and improving competition.

International standards organisations as well as the international accreditation community are now working to amend accreditation and certification requirements to better serve the needs of end users.

Several studies in the early 1990s concluded that third party certification was not producing the confidence in relation to product compliance that it was designed for.

The studies found that ISO 9000 could be considered the minimum requirement for quality assurance but was only one step to achieving improved product or service quality.

The recommendations included a need for certification schemes for standardised products and services, that all such schemes should rely on a universal quality management system and that sector schemes should be promoted where customer needs were identified.

The UK construction industry continues to restructure its certification requirements along sectoral lines, in order to provide the client confidence required to use independent third party product certification as an effective purchasing tool.

Construction in the UAE

These issues that concerned the UK are also relevant to the UAE, and are especially relevant to the construction sector.

As an example, the current steel market has become increasingly globalised and it is well known that consistency of product quality and compliance with product standards is highly variable when considering manufacture.

The risks of non-compliance have never been so high, particularly in a market such as the UAE, with its unprecedented rate of growth.

High materials prices, changes in construction methods and responsibilities, ever increasing pressure for early completion and progress towards the use of more sophisticated manufacturing methods are part of a mix that, if not controlled properly, will inevitably result in failures, placing contracts, structures and possibly even health and safety at risk.

The UK and UAE construction supply chains are similar in many ways. Both are relatively lightly regulated in terms of material supply and construction and are thus open to negative impacts that can be brought about by a highly competitive and price driven construction market.

The UK has introduced a system on conformity assessment, which mitigates towards the use of suitably accredited and qualified certification bodies and test laboratories.

Sector schemes such as Cares are therefore heavily used and even specified, both to control quality and to provide an environment for sector development with associated improvements in manufacturing and construction efficiencies.

Risk is reduced. The UAE should consider following this path. Why take the risk?

If you would like to write for Construction Week in this column, please email rob.wagner@itp.com.

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