Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

The Need for Quality Construction at the Outset

E PetersenFor this week’s Guest Post Friday here at Musings, we welcome Erik W. Peterson. Erik is the President of OAC Management Incorporated, has over 25 years of experience in the development and construction industry, and is the author of the book Taming the Squid—Organizational Sustainability/Surviving the 21st Century, © 2009, and Managing Editor of the book, A Guide to Construction Quality – The 7 Steps to a Proper Assembly © 2014. Mr. Peterson has also written 1-day and 2-day training courses for Quality Assurance Observation Certification. He is a frequent speaker at Colorado State University to their Construction Management Capstone Program and lives outside of Vail, Colorado.

Mr. Peterson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Industrial Technology from the University of Wyoming, completing a Masters in Christian Liberal Arts from Chambers College, and taught high school Electronics and Applied Physics.

Mr. Peterson has been married for 32 years to his wife Lorrie and they have two grown daughters.

As many of you are aware, there is generally a long tail of construction defect claims that follow an economic boom. A manifestation of that cycle occurred after the economy fell in 2008. The International Risk Management Institute (IRMI), reported in 2011 that we spent $3 billion in Construction Defect claims in 2010 alone – that we know of. Many forensic engineers and architects believe that number is probably 10x that as many a CD claim never gets filed or simply gets settled before it goes to court.

The good that comes out of this, is that professionals in the insurance industry, architects, engineers, contractors, suppliers, and the like, are all forced (scared into) taking a closer look at their policies, drawings, products, and installation practices…and we as an industry tend to get better at what we’re doing.

One example of how we get better, after enough bad things happen, occurred in 1970 under the Nixon administration. In that year, the Department of Labor and the U.S. Congress created what we are now very familiar with (and often annoyed by): the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). After decades of craftsmen being unnecessarily injured, maimed, killed, contracting illnesses from hazardous materials, et al, the industry united and applied enough pressure wherein the government did something good. Since that time we have seen safer job sites, healthier working conditions, and incidents resulting in injured workers have exponentially fallen. On the contrary, quality construction (as evidenced by what we’ve seen in CD claims) has done just the opposite. What we’ve witnessed over the past 20 – 30 years is an exponential spike in the number of construction defect claims and a decrease in the longevity or our structures. Why is that?

Now, I’m not implying (even remotely) that we need government to step in and address quality in construction; the fact is I don’t like big government. But what I am implying is that we, as an industry, can get better! And just practically speaking, why wouldn’t we want to? If we could reduce the number of CD claims, reduce re-work, reduce call backs, reduce the schedule, reduce the punch list and close-out process, we would be more profitable, more likely to get called back for new work, be able to focus on obtaining new work, be more “sustainable”, and improve the image of our industry. And that’s good for everyone!

About 4 years ago, we started training folks in the construction industry on what we call Quality Assurance Observation (QAO). We started in our local community, offering a 2-day course and certifying PM’s, Supt’s, and PE’s in what we coined Certified Quality Assurance Practitioner(s). In this course we taught a simple 7-step approach to assuring a quality assembly – and they loved it. Since then we’ve developed a 1-day course geared more toward Supt’s, Foreman, and Craftsmen and give them the designation of Certified Quality Assurance Technicians. The result? They love it – because it provides the simple tools they need to deliver a quality assembly.

I contend that Craftsmen, Foremen, Supt’s, and PM’s want to do a good job, and want a simple approach to make sure they’re installing a good assembly. Who doesn’t want to do a good job? But in an industry that requires you to pull up to a site, set up a remote office, battle the elements, invite a bunch of hardened strangers to work together to build something on a tight budget and a tight schedule, and use a host of various products that change every 2 years – it’s a tough job. So who’s verifying that it gets done right? The superintendent? He’s busy coordinating and conducting. The foremen? He’s busy making sure his crew showed up, timesheets are logged, and materials are where they need to be. Oh, the Project Engineer? No, he’s busy processing submittals and RFI’s. So it’s the craftsman right? Well, when is the last time you saw a craftsman reading through a submittal, or reading a cut sheet for a specific product? Surely if he’s “been doing this for 20 years” he knows how – right? Sometimes. But as stated previously, products change every few years. Our experience is, more often than not, that they generally understand what they need to know, but not specifically.

So how do we address the problem – perhaps better said, how do we improve the process? Not too differently than we address safety. We talk about it like you do your “Tool Box Talks”. You know…those weekly safety meetings that virtually every construction company in America has? Except we call them QAO Ready (Quality Assurance Observation) meetings. We go through the 7-Steps to a Proper Assembly with them before they start, verify throughout the assembly process they are doing it correctly and make adjustments that are needed along the way. Certainly not rocket science, but has proven very effective over the years. People generally like to learn and get better.

Here’s the bottom line: if we’re really going to get serious about reducing CD claims, improving the products that we’re delivering, and build truly “sustainable” structures, they have to be built correctly. And to do this, we’ve got to train our craftsmen and managers on a simple methodology; and this, too, can be a challenge with the younger generation coming into the workforce.

As always, we welcome your comments below. Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Fridays at Construction Law Musings.

The Need for Quality Construction at the Outset
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One Response to The Need for Quality Construction at the Outset

  1. So you would like a higher quality ‘built environment’ without ‘big government’ eh? Sure, your little Quality Assurance program is great but how do you make it nationwide? It’s like having a big bakes sale to fund the local building departments; quite silly really.
    The local AHJ’s are the entities who are tasked with quality control. Anyone who visits job sites and does site assessments can tell in a few minutes which AHJ’s are doing a good job of upholding standards and which are not. I applaud your Quality program but it should be an adjunct to a well funded and well trained Building Department; it should certainly NOT be a substitute. Setting up some straw man ‘Big Gummint’ argument is or should be beneath someone who makes a living arguing against shoddy builders and buildings.

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