Construction quality management in the era of COVID-19

By Fraser McInnes

Like many sectors, construction has been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. This has provided an opportunity to look at construction quality management and how organisations need to change the way they work amid social distancing and the continued risk of the virus - not to mention the reduced capacity or operations of their supply chain. Innovation and better collaboration are going to be essential in allowing the sector to not only recover from the impact of coronavirus but to work more efficiently and be better placed to manage unexpected risks going forward.  

Operating as an essential service 

The construction industry was deemed an essential service at the beginning of lockdown, which meant that organisations could, and were expected to, keep operating throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. This was particularly prevalent given the need for extra hospital facilities and the continued need for housing. 

However, the ‘ecosystem’ of construction meant that the various professions, specialists and suppliers that organisations work with have not been as accessible, impacting their ability to complete projects and maintain their contractual timescales. As soon as an organisation’s supply chain is impacted, this slows down the delivery of materials. If the manufacturer supplying the materials shutdown, this leaves the construction team having to source materials from elsewhere or halt their progress on a project.  

In addition to this, construction workers are also required to work while maintaining social distancing, which may slow things down at a practical level. For example, making moving around the site more difficult and staggering shifts, navigating the use of public transport and break facilities.  

Maintaining contractual obligations  

Many contracts did not address the potential scenario of something like a global pandemic occurring, and with the construction sector not being shut down during lockdown, this put organisations in a difficult position with their ability to meet their contractual obligations. With everything mentioned above, delays were inevitable. Research conducted back in March saw that 87% of businesses in the construction sector were impacted by COVID-19. [1] This includes: 

  • Reduced operations of suppliers 
  • Material shortages 
  • Labour shortages  
  • Financial difficulties  

Especially back at the start of the outbreak where a testing system for COVID-19 wasn’t yet in place, anyone with potential symptoms had to self-isolate for two weeks, and those deemed at high-risk were expected to shield. 47% of organisations experienced staff absences due to confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, or due to caring responsibilities for close family members.  

All these factors combined made it impossible for construction projects to run smoothly. Contracts should be reviewed and updated to take into account what can realistically be achieved in the current climate to assure both the health and safety of workers and also the quality of the finished project. 

Looking to the future 

Build UK are positive about the future of the construction sector, outlining where the focus should be: “After everything the industry has been through over the last few months, and with more uncertainty ahead, the overriding message from the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has been that our sector's long-term resilience depends on working collaboratively.” [2] 

The CLC specifies a three-step plan for economic recovery in the industry: 

  • Restart - focus on employment and progressing with projects 
  • Reset - looking at boosting demand and strengthening the resilience of supply chains 
  • Reinvent - strive for transformation and increased collaboration [3] 

The use of technology and digital systems will play a big part in step three when looking at new ways of doing things. This is where a construction quality management system comes in, supporting these new collaborative practices and providing a resilient framework for managing quality, risk and compliance.  

Our quality management software, Q-Pulse, provides an easily accessible central place for storing and accessing all necessary data and documentation. For example: 

  • The supplier module allows you to manage your supply chain digitally, ensuring records and compliance details are up to date 
  • Make better informed decisions with the risk management capability 
  • Implement strong internal controls for preventive and corrective actions 
  • Perform daily assessments to track compliance with the audit module  
  • Complete tasks on your tablet or mobile to reduce contact with paper forms 

Find out more about our construction quality management software and it how it can help to streamline your processes and operations in the post-COVID world.  

 

[1] Construction Online, ‘The impact of COVID-19 across the Construction Industry’:https://www.constructionline.co.uk/insights/news/covid-19-infographic/ 

[2] Build UK, Coronavirus update- Monday 13th July 2020: https://builduk.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Coronavirus-13-July-2020.pdf 

[3] Construction Leadership Council, ‘An Industry Recovery Plan for the UK Construction Sector’: https://www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/CLC-Roadmap-to-Recovery-01.06.20.pdf 

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