13. Quality Control and Safety During Construction
13.1 Quality and Safety Concerns in Construction
Quality control and safety represent increasingly important concerns for project managers. Defects or failures in constructed facilities can result in very large costs. Even with minor defects, re-construction may be required and facility operations impaired. Increased costs and delays are the result. In the worst case, failures may cause personal injuries or fatalities. Accidents during the construction process can similarly result in personal injuries and large costs. Indirect costs of insurance, inspection and regulation are increasing rapidly due to these increased direct costs. Good project managers try to ensure that the job is done right the first time and that no major accidents occur on the project.
As with cost control, the most important decisions regarding the quality of a completed facility are made during the design and planning stages rather than during construction. It is during these preliminary stages that component configurations, material specifications and functional performance are decided. Quality control during construction consists largely of insuring conformance to these original design and planning decisions.
While conformance to existing design decisions is the primary focus of quality control, there are exceptions to this rule. First, unforeseen circumstances, incorrect design decisions or changes desired by an owner in the facility function may require re-evaluation of design decisions during the course of construction. While these changes may be motivated by the concern for quality, they represent occasions for re-design with all the attendant objectives and constraints. As a second case, some designs rely upon informed and appropriate decision making during the construction process itself. For example, some tunneling methods make decisions about the amount of shoring required at different locations based upon observation of soil conditions during the tunneling process. Since such decisions are based on better information concerning actual site conditions, the facility design may be more cost effective as a result. Any special case of re-design during construction requires the various considerations discussed in Chapter 3.
With the attention to conformance as the measure of quality during the construction process, the specification of quality requirements in the design and contract documentation becomes extremely important. Quality requirements should be clear and verifiable, so that all parties in the project can understand the requirements for conformance. Much of the discussion in this chapter relates to the development and the implications of different quality requirements for construction as well as the issues associated with insuring conformance.
Safety during the construction project is also influenced in large part by decisions made during the planning and design process. Some designs or construction plans are inherently difficult and dangerous to implement, whereas other, comparable plans may considerably reduce the possibility of accidents. For example, clear separation of traffic from construction zones during roadway rehabilitation can greatly reduce the possibility of accidental collisions. Beyond these design decisions, safety largely depends upon education, vigilance and cooperation during the construction process. Workers should be constantly alert to the possibilities of accidents and avoid taken unnecessary risks.
13.2 Organizing for Quality and Safety
A variety of different organizations are possible for quality and safety control during construction. One common model is to have a group responsible for quality assurance and another group primarily responsible for safety within an organization. In large organizations, departments dedicated to quality assurance and to safety might assign specific individuals to assume responsibility for these functions on particular projects. For smaller projects, the project manager or an assistant might assume these and other responsibilities. In either case, insuring safe and quality construction is a concern of the project manager in overall charge of the project in addition to the concerns of personnel, cost, time and other management issues.
Inspectors and quality assurance personnel will be involved in a project to represent a variety of different organizations. Each of the parties directly concerned with the project may have their own quality and safety inspectors, including the owner, the engineer/architect, and the various constructor firms. These inspectors may be contractors from specialized quality assurance organizations. In addition to on-site inspections, samples of materials will commonly be tested by specialized laboratories to insure compliance. Inspectors to insure compliance with regulatory requirements will also be involved. Common examples are inspectors for the local government's building department, for environmental agencies, and for occupational health and safety agencies.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) routinely conducts site visits of work places in conjunction with approved state inspection agencies. OSHA inspectors are required by law to issue citations for all standard violations observed. Safety standards prescribe a variety of mechanical safeguards and procedures; for example, ladder safety is covered by over 140 regulations. In cases of extreme non-compliance with standards, OSHA inspectors can stop work on a project. However, only a small fraction of construction sites are visited by OSHA inspectors and most construction site accidents are not caused by violations of existing standards. As a result, safety is largely the responsibility of the managers on site rather than that of public inspectors.
While the multitude of participants involved in the construction process require the services of inspectors, it cannot be emphasized too strongly that inspectors are only a formal check on quality control. Quality control should be a primary objective for all the members of a project team. Managers should take responsibility for maintaining and improving quality control. Employee participation in quality control should be sought and rewarded, including the introduction of new ideas. Most important of all, quality improvement can serve as a catalyst for improved productivity. By suggesting new work methods, by avoiding rework, and by avoiding long term problems, good quality control can pay for itself. Owners should promote good quality control and seek out contractors who maintain such standards.
In addition to the various organizational bodies involved in quality control, issues of quality control arise in virtually all the functional areas of construction activities. For example, insuring accurate and useful information is an important part of maintaining quality performance. Other aspects of quality control include document control (including changes during the construction process), procurement, field inspection and testing, and final checkout of the facility.
13.3 Work and Material Specifications
Specifications of work quality are an important feature of facility designs. Specifications of required quality and components represent part of the necessary documentation to describe a facility. Typically, this documentation includes any special provisions of the facility design as well as references to generally accepted specifications to be used during construction.
General specifications of work quality are available in numerous fields and are issued in publications of organizations such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), or the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). Distinct specifications are formalized for particular types of construction activities, such as welding standards issued by the American Welding Society, or for particular facility types, such as the Standard Specifications for Highway Bridges issued by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. These general specifications must be modified to reflect local conditions, policies, available materials, local regulations and other special circumstances.
Construction specifications normally consist of a series of instructions or prohibitions for specific operations. For example, the following passage illustrates a typical specification, in this case for excavation for structures:
Conform to elevations and dimensions shown on plan within a tolerance of plus or minus 0.10 foot, and extending a sufficient distance from footings and foundations to permit placing and removal of concrete formwork, installation of services, other construction, and for inspection. In excavating for footings and foundations, take care not to disturb bottom of excavation. Excavate by hand to final grade just before concrete reinforcement is placed. Trim bottoms to required lines and grades to leave solid base to receive concrete.
This set of specifications requires judgment in application since some items are not precisely specified. For example, excavation must extend a "sufficient" distance to permit inspection and other activities. Obviously, the term "sufficient" in this case may be subject to varying interpretations. In contrast, a specification that tolerances are within plus or minus a tenth of a foot is subject to direct measurement. However, specific requirements of the facility or characteristics of the site may make the standard tolerance of a tenth of a foot inappropriate. Writing specifications typically requires a trade-off between assuming reasonable behavior on the part of all the parties concerned in interpreting words such as "sufficient" versus the effort and possible inaccuracy in pre-specifying all operations.
In recent years, performance specifications have been developed for many construction operations. Rather than specifying the required construction process, these specifications refer to the required performance or quality of the finished facility. The exact method by which this performance is obtained is left to the construction contractor. For example, traditional specifications for asphalt pavement specified the composition of the asphalt material, the asphalt temperature during paving, and compacting procedures. In contrast, a performance specification for asphalt would detail the desired performance of the pavement with respect to impermeability, strength, etc. How the desired performance level was attained would be up to the paving contractor. In some cases, the payment for asphalt paving might increase with better quality of asphalt beyond some minimum level of performance.
Example 13-1: Concrete Pavement Strength
Concrete pavements of superior strength result in cost savings by delaying the time at which repairs or re-construction is required. In contrast, concrete of lower quality will necessitate more frequent overlays or other repair procedures. Contract provisions with adjustments to the amount of a contractor's compensation based on pavement quality have become increasingly common in recognition of the cost savings associated with higher quality construction. Even if a pavement does not meet the "ultimate" design standard, it is still worth using the lower quality pavement and re-surfacing later rather than completely rejecting the pavement. Based on these life cycle cost considerations, a typical pay schedule might be:
In this table, the Load Ratio is the ratio of the actual pavement strength to the desired design strength and the Pay Factor is a fraction by which the total pavement contract amount is multiplied to obtain the appropriate compensation to the contractor. For example, if a contractor achieves concrete strength twenty percent greater than the design specification, then the load ratio is 1.20 and the appropriate pay factor is 1.05, so the contractor receives a five percent bonus. Load factors are computed after tests on the concrete actually used in a pavement. Note that a 90% pay factor exists in this case with even pavement quality only 50% of that originally desired. This high pay factor even with weak concrete strength might exist since much of the cost of pavements are incurred in preparing the pavement foundation. Concrete strengths of less then 50% are cause for complete rejection in this case, however.
13.4 Total Quality Control
Quality control in construction typically involves insuring compliance with minimum standards of material and workmanship in order to insure the performance of the facility according to the design. These minimum standards are contained in the specifications described in the previous section. For the purpose of insuring compliance, random samples and statistical methods are commonly used as the basis for accepting or rejecting work completed and batches of materials. Rejection of a batch is based on non-conformance or violation of the relevant design specifications. Procedures for this quality control practice are described in the following sections.
An implicit assumption in these traditional quality control practices is the notion of an acceptable quality level which is a allowable fraction of defective items. Materials obtained from suppliers or work performed by an organization is inspected and passed as acceptable if the estimated defective percentage is within the acceptable quality level. Problems with materials or goods are corrected after delivery of the product.
In contrast to this traditional approach of quality control is the goal of total quality control. In this system, no defective items are allowed anywhere in the construction process. While the zero defects goal can never be permanently obtained, it provides a goal so that an organization is never satisfied with its quality control program even if defects are reduced by substantial amounts year after year. This concept and approach to quality control was first developed in manufacturing firms in Japan and Europe, but has since spread to many construction companies. The best known formal certification for quality improvement is the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 9000 standard. ISO 9000 emphasizes good documentation, quality goals and a series of cycles of planning, implementation and review.
Total quality control is a commitment to quality expressed in all parts of an organization and typically involves many elements. Design reviews to insure safe and effective construction procedures are a major element. Other elements include extensive training for personnel, shifting the responsibility for detecting defects from quality control inspectors to workers, and continually maintaining equipment. Worker involvement in improved quality control is often formalized in quality circles in which groups of workers meet regularly to make suggestions for quality improvement. Material suppliers are also required to insure zero defects in delivered goods. Initally, all materials from a supplier are inspected and batches of goods with any defective items are returned. Suppliers with good records can be certified and not subject to complete inspection subsequently.
The traditional microeconomic view of quality control is that there is an "optimum" proportion of defective items. Trying to achieve greater quality than this optimum would substantially increase costs of inspection and reduce worker productivity. However, many companies have found that commitment to total quality control has substantial economic benefits that had been unappreciated in traditional approaches. Expenses associated with inventory, rework, scrap and warranties were reduced. Worker enthusiasm and commitment improved. Customers often appreciated higher quality work and would pay a premium for good quality. As a result, improved quality control became a competitive advantage.
Of course, total quality control is difficult to apply, particular in construction. The unique nature of each facility, the variability in the workforce, the multitude of subcontractors and the cost of making necessary investments in education and procedures make programs of total quality control in construction difficult. Nevertheless, a commitment to improved quality even without endorsing the goal of zero defects can pay real dividends to organizations.
Example 13-2: Experience with Quality Circles
Quality circles represent a group of five to fifteen workers who meet on a frequent basis to identify, discuss and solve productivity and quality problems. A circle leader acts as liason between the workers in the group and upper levels of management. Appearing below are some examples of reported quality circle accomplishments in construction:
- On a highway project under construction by Taisei Corporation, it was found that the loss rate of ready-mixed concrete was too high. A quality circle composed of cement masons found out that the most important reason for this was due to an inaccurate checking method. By applying the circle's recommendations, the loss rate was reduced by 11.4%.
- In a building project by Shimizu Construction Company, may cases of faulty reinforced concrete work were reported. The iron workers quality circle examined their work thoroughly and soon the faulty workmanship disappeared. A 10% increase in productivity was also achieved.