Being held to account

This Issue This is a part of the Accountability feature

By - , Build 150

The number of building defects currently slipping through reflects badly on our industry. With an apparent lack of accountability on some sites, it’s time a sense of pride in work was resurrected.

Also unacceptable – bottom edges of weatherboards should align at the corner, and boards should have a 2 mm gap between them at the laps.

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, I have visited a number of residential building sites. Three things have, at times, surprised me:

  • Being able to freely enter the site without challenge as no one seemed to be in charge.
  • Asking those working on the site a question, and being told ‘I am only here to …’ or ‘That is not my responsibility’.
  • The lack of on-site supervision.

This begs the question, who is taking responsibility, and who is actually accountable?

Problems throughout the process

Widespread media coverage has recently highlighted non-compliant earthquake repairs, building defects and high BCA inspection fail rates.

Concerningly, some of these inspection fails relate to common standard building practices such as the poor or incorrect installation of a window head flashing.

Anecdotal observations from visitors to current building sites also report poor quality and inadequate or low levels of skill.

Couple this with the ongoing fallout from leaky buildings and the prominence being given to buildings undergoing a second round of repairs, and the industry needs to be concerned.

Recent BRANZ research has also identified quality issues:

  • The initial findings of the BRANZ construction quality survey identified a number of Building Code compliance defects and aesthetic defects.
  • BRANZ surveys of builders’ clients show that there is a widening gap between builders’ performance and clients’ expectations.
  • Clients stating in BRANZ surveys that communication from their builder and follow-up on completion was poor.

Some of the changes that seem to be causing these problems are:

  • the fragmentation of building tasks as a result of the housing company or client employing individual separate contractors to do the slab, erect the frames and so on
  • a designer often not being employed to observe construction on behalf of their client
  • less time allocated to inspecting building work either by the project supervisor, if there is one, or the BCA
  • a lack of detail in the construction drawings that the BCA and builder are expected to work from.
Also unacceptable – bottom edges of weatherboards should align at the corner, and boards should have a 2 mm gap between them at the laps.

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Legislation to increase accountability

New legislation has been introduced to drive change.

On 1 January, legislation came into force to improve accountability and define responsibility so that clients have an increased level of confidence in our industry.

There is also a new mandatory 12-month defect liability period for contractors doing building work.

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What can be done to get back on track

What we need to bring back to the industry is pride – making those involved in building work proud of what they are doing.

Essential to this is attitude, but as an industry we also need to do these things:

  • Nominate a specific person with the right attitude to take ultimate responsiblity for construction quality, delivering the finished building to the specified standard and ensuring timely follow-up at the end of the project.
  • Ensure clients are well informed about the building process.
  • Have open lines of communication with the designer, the client, subtrades and the BCA.
  • Ensure builders are provided with adequate construction drawings and relevant specifications.
  • Have access to the designer during pricing and construction so that design and documentation issues can be resolved by them. Designers need to sell the value of their service to their clients.
  • Have enough time to carry out and supervise building work to the specified standard.
  • Have enough money – if we constrict time and money, it is usually quality that suffers.
  • Have all contract and consented documents on site. For some sites, the project coordinator kept the drawings in their vehicle, and this was often not at the site.
  • Be prepared to say no to unacceptable work. If work is not up to standard, it needs to be rectified at source and not left as is.
  • Employ staff on site that have the necessary skills to read the drawings and carry out the building work they are tasked with doing. One example is the installation of bevel-back weatherboard cladding. Those doing the work were new to the task, did not have a basic understanding of the steps and had not been asked if they knew how to do the installation.
  • Make each trade responsible for their work and have following trades sign off an acceptance that the previous work is of a satisfactory standard for them to achieve the specified standard for their work.
  • Meet start and finish dates.

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Time for a change

Our image as an industry has taken a hammering over the last couple of decades, and we have some work to do collectively to restore public confidence.

In the words of NZIA President Pip Cheshire, ‘It is time that we, the building industry, showed confidence and a commitment to ensuring the products of our labours are the best that science, industry and creative endeavour can deliver.’

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Also unacceptable – bottom edges of weatherboards should align at the corner, and boards should have a 2 mm gap between them at the laps.