Published: 26 Feb 2021

Dave Sheedy, CQP MCQI, Quality Assurance Manager at ArcelorMittal Kent Wire Ltd, UK, explains the life-saving importance of suppliers producing the correct accreditation for the latest construction quality standards.

As part of the tendering process within the construction industry, major projects require the completion of a pre-qualification questionnaire at all levels within the supply chain to ensure the exact requirements of the project can be met fully. These questionnaires are generated by purchasing departments from project documentation, and are highly detailed documents, containing a great many specifications for the products to be supplied. Similar processes operate across many other sectors, and I am sure they will all share one key point, the specification of incorrect standards.

A wonderful example of getting the basics wrong is the quite regular ISO 9000:2008. A major project recently was surprised when it required accreditation to ISO9000:2000. These failings are usually corrected by most of us within the industry, and the right accreditation is supplied. This may seem like a minor issue, but what would happen if this was a material specification that was safety critical? This could lead to substandard or unsafe materials being used in a major project, which could increase fire risk, cause structural failures or create other risks.

A sign of deeper failings

A good example of this can be found in the reinforcement industry. In 1989, BS 7123 was issued as a specification for the metal arc welding of steel for concrete reinforcement. This was the key standard for many years but in was replaced in 2015 with BS 8548, a much-improved standard providing guidance for the use of BS EN ISO 17660 Parts I & II. During this time, the size of fabrications and their use have increased greatly, so the guidance was needed to continuously improve the standard of the welded products within the reinforcement industry and their structural strength to match the requirements of the latest infrastructure projects.

To this day, we still receive questionnaires specifying the old standard, and in some cases, find that contracts have been handed to businesses that do not hold any accreditation for welding reinforcement at all. The failure to use businesses with the appropriate accreditations increases the risk of potential failures during the lifting operations required for installation or, even more frightening, leading to a catastrophic failure of the buildings’ structural integrity once installed – both completely unacceptable situations.

To many people this would be identified, probably by an internal or external audit, as failure in training of purchasing department staff. However, I would define these as a much deeper failings, not only in training, but also documentary review and organisational knowledge. It would be clear that the document had not been reviewed by someone with suitable knowledge to identify the incorrect standards specified and that the organisational knowledge of the business was missing a regularly reviewed register of applicable standards.

Resolution and continual improvement

How do quality professionals resolve these issues, prevent recurrence and additionally provide a route for the business to continually improve?

Primarily, we must ensure the involvement of our teams right from the start of the tendering process to identify the areas that may require their intervention

The identification of risks and opportunities at this point would allow us to fully embed the ethos of ISO 9001 within the project.

This would allow us to primarily build into the processes the required organisational knowledge, be it though our own input reviewing the documentation, training the staff to identify requirements properly, including their required standards and then guiding them through the process of creating a register of all these applicable standards. In many cases, the best source of information on the applicable and most up-to-date standards for specific products is the main trade associations for those industries. A large number of them will provide you with all the information immediately and will also be able to supply details of all of their members who are able to meet the requirements fully.

This process would not only improve the perception of your project within industry, but also ensure the products supplied to your project are of the high quality and meet – and in many cases – exceed the basic specifications. Most importantly, you could be saving lives.

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