Quality assurance (QA) in construction is nothing new. In fact, even ancient civilizations had forms of quality assurance in place such as construction laws and formal subcontracts. So, while it may feel like QA is the latest industry buzzword, the fact is that for millennia, people have been concerned with the quality of the materials and buildings they purchase. The basics remain the same, but the rules and laws have evolved over the years to better meet our needs.
Quality Assurance’s Evolution
China had the earliest evidence of QA, with the standardisation of measuring instruments through to a quality control system as early as 700BC. This spread to Greece and Rome where the architect was responsible for the design and construction of a project, and formal laws and contracts were in place for construction. Rome, in particular, was an empire of builders that required extensive standardisation, planning and execution – and quality assurance managers.
Guilds – the original unions – soon followed across Northern Europe, with master craftsmen marking their work with guild crests to indicate a level of quality. In 1880, it became law to indicate where a product was made, and trademarks were also introduced. The 1920s and 30s saw the development of scientific quality management, mostly aimed at manufacturing. These ideas continued to develop, with the International Standards Organization (ISO) introducing the first QA standard, ISO 9000, in 1987. From here, quality assurance within construction became more organised and mainstream, with quality assurance manager roles appearing.
Quality Assurance Today
These days, quality within construction is governed by a quality control plan (QCP). This document should outline:
- The quality responsibilities and duties of staff
- The required qualifications of all staff, contractors and suppliers
- Details of quality training, project-specific quality standards that need to be met
- The policies, procedures and specifications to be used for quality inspections and tests
- The actions required to remedy defects, such as replacing or repairing defective work
- The quality records that need to be kept, including who is responsible for them and how they should be stored
- Project completion inspections and post-completion review procedures
In addition to the QCP, Inspection Test Plans (ITPs) are also required to manage and track the inspections and tests needed to control quality on a project. It tells the client what inspections and tests will be carried out, while also acting as a checklist and log of the results.
Keeping track of all the quality activities that are required for every project is no small task. On top of this, the QCP and ITPs need regular auditing to ensure they are current, to standard, and being followed. Quality manager and quality auditor roles have arisen to meet these needs and many contracts require dedicated quality management staff and may even specify auditing requirements.
In response, a wide range of courses and qualifications are now available for quality management, such as post-graduate diplomas and certificates in quality management, Masters degrees, and training courses. BSi Hong Kong is one such training provider, offering courses between 1–5 days’ duration in quality management and auditing.
The Importance of Quality Assurance
Let’s be honest: for many of us, the term “quality assurance” conjures up visions of box-ticking exercises and stacks of paperwork. But in reality, most of us within construction use a range of quality assurance procedures in our jobs every day. Imagine the chaos if there were no standardised timber sizes, varying building regulations and design standards, or no health and safety laws. Each of these examples has a purpose such as making our work easier and safer, but they also contribute to ensuring quality.
Of course, quality assurance generally refers to formal processes and systems to ensure that both the design and construction meets quality standards – in other words, the procedures that make sure that those design standards and building regulations are adhered to. While most construction professionals are familiar with the project management triangle of time, cost, and quality, many of the controls we put in place focus on time and cost. Quality is often taken for granted, until something goes wrong.
But when quality does go wrong, it has disastrous consequences. Additional costs from rework or repairs, project delays, damaged reputations, and even serious injury can all result from poor quality assurance and control. In the more-for-less climate where consultancies and contractors are continually looking for efficiencies to meet client demands and protect profit margins, quality is the foundation for achieving time, cost and efficiency targets.
Do Your Best Work
Have you got a passion for quality? We are recruiting for a range of quality management roles in Hong Kong, including a Quality Assurance Manager for a major infrastructure employer. If you have what it takes to provide expert quality assurance management and advice, get in touch for an informal discussion about your next role in quality assurance.
About the Author
Construction Recruitment Director, Hong Kong
I am responsible for the recruitment business in Hong Kong, Asia, and the Middle East. I was a civil engineer and project manager for 15 years before becoming a construction industry recruitment consultant in 2004. I am based in the Hong Kong office and specialise in placing professionals in engineering, project management, planning, HSEQ and risk.
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