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Applying a quality conscience to safety critical projects


Costain shapes, creates and delivers pioneering solutions that transform the performance of the infrastructure ecosystem across the UK’s energy, water, transportation and defence markets. Here, Martin Davies, their Quality Director, Nuclear, shares five key learnings for achieving success through quality, in environments that are heavily regulated.

The delivery of safety-critical major projects across the infrastructure ecosystem is incredibly complex. Even more so when set against a backdrop of the energy crisis and the government’s drive for efficiencies. It has never been more important that as an industry, we demonstrate respect for the public purse and deliver value to the taxpayer, whilst maintaining the highest standards of quality.

For an organisation such as ours, a key way we can do this is by considering our projects as a portfolio, and rather than delivering them in silo, actively seek to exploit opportunities for sharing knowledge. By implementing a systems approach and examining the synergies between projects in the nuclear and defence, rail and energy sectors, we can turn key learnings into actionable insights. These can be used to redraw the model for successful programme delivery, ensuring that we are delivering value outcomes, efficiently – while never losing sight of the fundamental imperative of assuring quality.

As practitioners in the infrastructure market, we have taken our cross-industry experience from energy, defence and rail, to share five key learnings for achieving success through quality, in heavily regulated environments.

Our vision – what does best practice look like?

We believe that there are core foundations which have to be in place to assure high standards of quality. In safety-critical projects, the importance of process safety thinking needs to be established and embedded as a culture from the outset and underpinned by a strong quality culture. What do we mean by this? An integrated project team which is defined by a ‘one team’ mentality with a clear vision of what success looks like and the role of individuals in realising it, enhancing decision-making throughout the lifecycle of the project.

‘Production thinking’ and ‘building information modelling’ techniques are at the heart of this vision; a vision of standardisation where we only create bespoke assets where absolutely necessary, where we use data insights to fuel collaborative working and digital rehearsals to maximise the opportunity for off-site assembly, testing, trialling and commissioning.

Our five key learnings

  1. Adopt a holistic systems view.
  2. Establish and measure culture and behaviours.
  3. Embrace the power of digital.
  4. Standardise wherever possible.
  5. Establish a systems integration facility where the interaction of systems can be fully assessed before onsite installation.

Quality should play an ever more prominent role in transforming the performance of our infrastructure. If a strong quality regime is established at the mobilisation stage of complex major projects, with cross-functional buy-in, we can minimise the risk of unanticipated costs or delays to schedule. Furthermore, by adopting a systems approach which identifies synergies across the whole programme lifecycle, through standardisation and the use of digital tools, we can de-risk the trialling, testing and commissioning of safety critical systems and assure delivery to client expectations. This means eliminating waste wherever possible, while also creating social, economic and environmental value.

More on quality conscience

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Building a sustainability conscience


To celebrate World Quality Week 2022, Chair of the CQI’s Sustainability Special Interest Group, Zoi Kontodimou, discusses the concept of a sustainability conscience.

Author: Zoi Kontodimou, Chair of the CQI's Sustainability Special Interest Group

As more organisations become aware of their social impact, many words and phrases have grown in popularity. One of the most popular of those words is sustainability, as well as all the words that go along with it, such as carbon neutral, net zero, diversity, inclusion, corporate governance, environmental, social and governance (ESG), and so many more.

But how should we approach sustainability? And how should we work towards an organisation that is not only sustainable itself, but also contributes to environmental integrity, social equity, and economic prosperity – the principles of sustainable development, as well as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

A sustainability conscience means that all sustainability risks are addressed and managed, and all sustainability opportunities are taken advantage of...

Transforming processes with a sustainability conscience

The answer is quite simple; by developing its quality conscience into a sustainability conscience. We need to take the things that an organisation uses successfully and that already drives continuous improvement – such as its quality practices, risk-based approaches, and management systems – and transform them by building in a sustainability conscience from the start. If we can incorporate corporate sustainability elements into policies, objectives, and processes, as well as its overall corporate strategy, we can turn them once again into a competitive advantage.

A sustainability conscience means that all sustainability risks are addressed and managed, and all sustainability opportunities are taken advantage of, so that the organisation improves over time, has impeccable product stewardship, and contributes to the common good.

Addressing sustainability risks

Sustainability risks relate to all the functions of an organisation. In order for them to be addressed and managed, an organisation should use the existing risk management system, which ought to be enhanced in order to also include ESG risks. Relevant controls should be established so that sustainability risks are mitigated and those controls should be addressed with the same rigor as the rest of the company’s controls.  

Preparing for a sustainability conscience as an auditor

Internal audit plans will include more and more sustainability issues, and so internal auditors should be sure to allocate enough time to assess them, since they are as important as the remaining auditable issues of an organisation. The audit committees will also review more non-financial results so that the company improves not only its financial performance but also its overall impact on the environment and society, through this process, and its overall value. 

Preparing for the future

There is a growing urge for organisations to have more accountability, and I believe that sustainability information will increasingly be included in a company’s annual reports – the number of companies that issue such reports is expected to at least triple in the next five years. As 2050 approaches, companies will have to reach net zero so that we, as a global community, can achieve the Paris agreement. And in order for a company to be accountable and transparent, a sustainability conscience is in order.  

Corporate sustainability is an activity that should be managed, and due to its complexity and multidisciplinary nature, this should be done through a systems approach. A company’s corporate sustainability management system should be governance-oriented and functionality based, and what better way to achieve this, than developing it on its existing management systems? And of course who would be better suited to lead this change, than the quality professionals that have the mentality, ethics, training, and willingness to do the right thing? All of us that can make a difference once again, by creating a sustainability conscience.

Are you passionate about quality and sustainability? Why not join the CQI's Sustainability Special Interest Group to share your knowledge and learn from other experts in the sector. 

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