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When you hear the term “construction quality assurance,” what comes to mind? If you’re thinking “quality control,” you’re not alone. In truth, however, quality assurance (QA) proactively establishes a plan — including required documentation and procedures — for preventing mistakes in design and workmanship and occurs before the build starts. Quality control (QC) verifies that everything meets the standards outlined within the QA and corrects any flaws that are discovered. Consider them to be complementary routes to the same destination; QA plans how to get there, while QC verifies that you will get there.
Why is quality assurance important?
- It’s been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Even though risk is part of the territory when it comes to construction projects, QA helps mitigate it from the beginning, becoming an indirect part of an overall risk-management strategy. Taking time to prevent an error from happening in the first place is preferable to scrambling to fix costly consequences in terms of budget, schedule, reputation and future business opportunities.
- Construction quality assurance ensures the project meets design and structural standards while also meeting owner project requirements. This includes everything from the project design itself, to the necessary skill sets of the people who are drawing up and engineering the project. And it also outlines the specific materials to be used that adhere to those standards for structural integrity, along with the qualifications of the suppliers that can provide them.
- It establishes the process and methods that will be used for the testing of materials and systems, ensuring compliance with building codes, and meeting inspection requirements throughout the build. These are like the guardrails of a construction project, the parameters within which the build must operate to satisfy these documentation requirements.
- QA isn’t limited to just the project at hand; it applies to the construction companies as well. How a building is constructed is just as important as the process used to build it. Anyone who is out in the field performing the actual work, operating equipment or handling materials should undergo appropriate safety training. That applies to anything related to job site safety, properly donning personal protective equipment, and inspection of equipment for damage or necessary repairs before resuming use, for example. Safe construction site practices lead to safer structures — and fewer OSHA violations.
- You might consider building commissioning to be a type of quality assurance, one that focuses on ensuring the functionality of the systems and equipment within a structure before handoff. When applying the ongoing quality assurance principle of defect prevention to the commissioning process, it goes a long way toward keeping your end-of-project punch list as short as possible. Longer term, it can reduce the likelihood of building owners calling the contractor back for repair of a faulty system down the road.
What are the risks of not having a construction quality assurance process?
- Schedules can be thrown off. When you don’t have a solid QA plan to work against, it can contribute to time-consuming corrective actions, a frequent cause for schedule delays. How do you remedy something as common as this? The most effective way is to provide site crews with timely information that helps them do their job better. That could range from material safety data sheets to change orders to blueprint updates. Sounds like a simple fix, yet lack of communication is one of the biggest complaints within the industry. Ensuring everyone has what they need, when they need it, is a critical part of any QA process so timeline milestones are met.
- Extra costs may be incurred. Small mistakes can often surface throughout the build, and frequently do. More often than not, however, they won’t be detrimental to the owner’s plans to put the building into full use. But there are still repair costs, from hard materials and their delivery to additional labor. And those costs can really add up if they happens to be from an inadvertently replicated issue throughout the structure. Imagine the impact that could have for owners and contractors alike on more sizable projects. In addition, more serious flaws found during the defect-liability period (after practical completion is reached) can lead to frustrating rework. On top of the associated costs absorbed by the contractor, it may have a ripple effect of delaying any retention payments due to them.
- There is a higher potential for injury and liability. And then there’s the worst-case scenario: system or equipment failure months or years later. Whether it’s the result of a faulty or nonexistent QA procedure, or an insufficient commissioning process, it can lead to potential injury and costly damage claims and litigation down the road.
It might occur at this point to ask that if QA is such a crucial part of any project, why is it less commonly practised than QC? The main reason for this is that construction quality assurance has typically been a manual process. It’s time-consuming, often paper-based, and involves copious amounts of documentation. Thankfully, there is a better way to go. Digitising the QA process not only can alleviate the paper chase, but markedly increase communication and efficiencies for all involved stakeholders.
Digitising can increase workflow productivity and bring order to this complex yet necessary process. Software like InEight Completions has been developed with the benefits of QA firmly in mind, elevating quality to the same status as cost and schedule as a marker of project success.
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