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Sat 16 May 2009 04:00 AM

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Meeting standards

During tough economic times the temptation to procure cheaper products and cut corners on installation techniques can grow. Construction Week examines why it’s vital to comply with internationally recognised Standards and certification.

Meeting standards
Role of standards in supporting technology.
Meeting standards
Meeting standards
BASEC chief executive Jeremy Hodge.
Meeting standards
PFPF Chairman David Sugden.

During tough economic times the temptation to procure cheaper products and cut corners on installation techniques can grow. Construction Week examines why it’s vital to comply with internationally recognised Standards and certification.

With money tight, budgets are being slashed across the board on projects in the Middle East. Developers and clients are seeking lower cost jobs and contractors are looking for ways to carry out their contracts within reduced budgets.

And while some are turning to increased efficiency to meet these financial demands, others are being tempted to seek cheaper options for products and installation methods, which may not meet internationally recognised standards and certification.

But are any potential savings in capital costs from using substandard products worth it? Several issues, including the overall life-cycle cost should be looked at when considering the true price of a product if value to the client is to be determined. “Non-compliant products might appear cheaper during the procurement process, but the additional costs of complete failure of materials, poor fit, rework, replacement, delays to completion etc are rarely factored in,” explains British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC) chief executive Jeremy Hodge.

One of the more serious issues is that of health and safety, as the use of non-certified products can have serious implications both during and post construction. “It’s always best to use products [that are] backed by established standards such as the British standards range, particularly if performance is essential to life safety, for example fire safety products,” stresses Passive Fire Protection Federation (PFPF) chairman David Sugden. “You can never be certain of products where a manufacturer’s claims are not backed by such standards and, as long-term performance is questionable, any apparent savings in cost are illusory,” adds Sugden.

“Generally paying 10% to 15% more for a properly certificated product is well worth the extra cost. If fire doors, for example, are purchased without third-party certification, their performance will only be tested in an actual fire. If deaths follow, because the doors didn’t perform well, the costs of claims and damage to reputation would far outweigh any initial saving,” Sugden stresses.

All products certified with the British Standard mark have been tested by a third-party laboratory that independently verifies that the performance meets the specifications of the standard. Some standards require that fire performance tests are carried out following product durability trials in order to prove fire performance after in-situ service. This provides an additional level of safety to the end-user.

But selecting the right products is only one part of the story. Internationally recognised standards and certifications also exist for installation procedures and in order to achieve good health and safety levels, as well as a high quality build, these should be adhered to. Following such methods can bring contractors further benefits, as Hodge explains: “Procedures compliant with international standards provide faster installation through familiarity, ease of inspection and checking, and choice of sub-contractor.”

“Using international-level procedures in maintaining health and safety is important for staff morale and social acceptability,” stresses Sugden. “Firms with a bad reputation may lose out on future projects. Plans for health and safety should include the whole life of the project, for example safety in maintenance such as window cleaning,” he adds.

Product manufacturers back up the need to follow correct installation methods and a product warranty may often depend upon this being done. “Any manufacturer of construction products will confirm that it is no use fitting a well tested product if the installation isn’t done properly,” states Sugden. “Where fire doors are concerned for example, the door leaf itself is tested with certain hinges, closers and other hardware; the same approved fittings must be used in practice for the door to perform as expected,” he explains. “Fire-rated glazing must use the appropriate frames and fixings for it to perform correctly,” adds Sugden.

There are now many training schemes available to contractors that are run by both manufacturers and third-party certification bodies to ensure that installations are correct. “In the UK the glazing industry itself has established schemes to train and certify installers. The same schemes are now available for all fire safety sectors in the UK and similar schemes operate in the USA and Canada,” reports Sugden.

Standards in practice

With clear benefits to be gained from complying with recognised certification, what standards should firms in the region be applying? Traditionally, British standards have been followed throughout most of the Middle East for construction projects, however the scope of accepted standards has expanded, with European and American standards also the norm on many projects today.

“The growing influence of American designers and contractors has led to more ASTM standards being adopted,” explains Sugden. “In fire matters NFPA [National Fire Protection Association] designs are often stipulated, which call for either NFPA or UL [Underwriters Laboratories] test reports and listings. The Dubai Civil Defence requires the use of third-party certificated products where fire safety is concerned and will rigorously enforce this rule after using specialists from Bodycote Warrington Laboratories for technical verification,” says Sugden.

“Legal requirements, including third-party approvals, vary from territory to territory, and are usually negotiated with local regulators such as Civil Defence authorities,” adds Hodge.

In terms of individual projects, it is advisable to select and use a single system of standards and approvals in order to ensure compatibility throughout the build process and avoid any complex authorisation processes, stresses Hodge. “Designers should take the initiative in producing an overall compliance plan for the project,” Hodge suggests.

With the developing construction industry in the region, standards are also now being developed that take into consideration issues such as the local environment, climate and build practices. “Many regulatory agencies in the Middle East are in the process of introducing new conformity requirements based on a range of international standards, for example the Dubai Civil Defence procedures for fire protection products and installation,” reports Hodge. “By referring to suitable international standards in these systems, rather than applying special rules, cost saving for international and local manufacturers can be achieved by reducing the amount of testing and approval required, so reducing the overall cost and time for the project while utilising the best of international practice.”

By evolving as technology develops, standards support technological innovation and can also be used to set targets for technologies to aim for in terms of performance specifications, states BSI. “Far from impeding innovation, standards deliver competitive advantages to the industries and countries where they are most developed, and they embed those countries’ intellect and expertise into the international innovation agenda,” stresses BSI British Standards director Mike Low. “Standards provide support for innovation from original concept through to market,” adds Low.

One of the recent set of standards to be introduced into the Middle East has also been one of the most talked about over the past year, that of ‘green’ or sustainable building standards. “Sustainability standards have a role to play in the middle ground between hard-line laws and educational tools,” says Professor David Jackman, a sustainability expert who played a major role in developing BS 8900: Guidance for managing sustainable development.

What is a standard?

A standard is a document that defines best practice and has been established by consensus and approved by a recognised body, reports BSI British Standards. They are developed through consultation with sector stakeholders when there is a defined market need.

Designed to set out clear and unambiguous provisions and performance objectives in order to help trade and communication, standards may also meet other needs such as helping to stimulate innovation through the efficient dissemination of information, and improving quality of life by environmental requirements. Each standard is kept current via a process of maintenance and review whereby it is updated, revised or withdrawn as necessary.

Although standards are voluntary and separate from legal and regulatory systems, they can actually be used to support or complement legislation.

While several internationally recognised sets of standards and processes exist for green building practices, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has, to date, proven the most popular in the region. Originally developed by the US Green Building Council, the Emirates Green Building Council has since adapted LEED to meet local environmental issues and nuances.

“LEED certification is a buzzword in the construction industry,” states Above Green president Vincent Bataoel, LEED Accredited Professional (AP). “It is a standard used by construction professionals and project developers to guarantee the environmental quality of new construction or major renovation projects.”

There are six categories in the LEED system: sustainable sites; water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; materials and resources; indoor environmental quality; and innovative design. An environmental designer or LEED AP uses these categories to determine what environmental features can best be incorporated into a project given its particular geography, goals and budget. Following construction, a LEED certification application listing proof of the methods taken to meet the standards will be submitted to the Green Building Council for third-party verification. If the building adequately complies with the standards, it will be listed certified, silver, gold, or platinum, depending on the number of environmental features that have been incorporated.

“Many of these options translate into saving money, improving the quality of life for the occupants and raising the overall quality of the building,” explains Bataoel. “The projects that we work on typically use at least 40% less water, 40% less energy, and generate 50% to 75% less waste than regular projects.

“Our LEED buildings have 5% to 10% higher occupancy rates and the property values themselves are one to three times higher than they would be without using these environmental standards. It is not only about saving resources and saving the ecosystem, it is also about improving the indoor environment for the occupants as well as the financial bottom-line for the building owners,” adds Bataoel.

Rental values of LEED-certified buildings are also generally higher and further long-term gains can be made from staff productivity. “Building owners can charge more for the spaces because they are premium spaces. Building occupants are more productive because the spaces are cleaner, brighter and promote well being,” reports Bataoel.

Preparing for the futureWith a worldwide economic recession underway, it may be tempting for some to opt for the non-standards compliant options. But, the benefits of following best practice procedures are evident. They are law in some cases. “The Civil Defence Department requires the use of third-party certificated products and services where fire safety in buildings is concerned. This won’t change just because we have a recession,” concludes Sugden.

Standards bodies and organisations

ANSIThe American National Standards Institute (Ansi) oversees the creation and use of thousands of guidelines that directly impact businesses in nearly every industry sector. Ansi is the official US representative to the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission.

Ansi also accredits programmes that assess conformance to standards – including globally-recognised cross-sector programs such as ISO 9000 and ISO 14,000 quality and environmental management systems.www.ansi.org

ASTMASTM International was formed more than a century ago as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). It provides technical standards for materials, products, systems and services for a range of industries. Standards developed at ASTM are the work of over 30,000 ASTM members, with technical experts representing producers, users, consumers, government and academia from over 120 countries.www.astm.org

BASECThe British Approvals Service for Cables (Basec) is a non-profit making UK Government-nominated body. Operating for more than 30 years, Basec provides product certification services for electrical cables, data and signal cables and ancillary products. All products are rigorously tested to meet necessary and appropriate British, European and international standards through detailed examination of manufacturers’ production processes and controls. Basec provides system assessment and certification for Quality (ISO 9001); Environmental (ISO 14,001) and Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSAS 18,001).www.basec.org.uk

BSIBSI British Standards is the UK’s National Standards Body and was the world’s first such body. A non-profit distributing organisation, it works with manufacturing and service industries, businesses, governments and consumers to facilitate the production of British, European and international standards.www.bsi-global.com

Construction Products Certification (CPC)Construction Products Certification is the division of the UK’s Quality Scheme for Ready Mixed Concrete (QSRMC) that provides a certification service for suppliers of a range of construction products. CPC offers certification for construction materials suppliers and can work in partnership with its clients to offer integrated audits at multi-product sites. As a Notified Body under the Construction Products Directive (89/106/EEC), CPC can provide certification of the factory production control system for products that require the involvement of a third-party certification body.www.cpcert.co.uk

LEEDLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a standard used by construction professionals and project developers to guarantee the environmental quality of new construction or major renovation projects. An environmental designer or LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) uses these categories to determine what environmental features the project can incorporate given its particular geography, goals, and budget, with several firms now offering this service including Above Green (www.abovegreen.com).www.usgbc.org; www.emiratesgbc.org

Passive Fire Protection Federation (PFPF)The Passive Fire Protection Federation (PFPF) is dedicated to growing awareness and giving advice on fire protection and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO). The Federation brings together the collective expertise of the passive fire protection industry and provides a central forum so that the industry speaks with one voice to articulate the benefits and value of passive fire protection in the achievement of fire safe building design and construction. Passive fire protection is the primary measure integrated within the construction fabric of a building to provide inherent fire safety and protection by responding against flame, heat and smoke to maintain the fundamental requirements of building compartmentation, structural stability, fire separation and safe means of escape.www.pfpf.org UK CARESUK Certification Authority for Reinforcing Steels (UK Cares) is an independent, not-for-profit certification body that was established in 1983 to provide confidence to the users, purchasers and specifiers of constructional steels through a regime of regulation, testing and inspection. Cares is an international operator, providing certification in over 40 countries worldwide. It is a Notified Certification Body and a European Technical Approval Body under the Construction Products Directive for reinforcing and prestressing steels; post-tensioning systems; structural steels; and precast concrete products. It offers certification schemes for firms that produce materials, components or offer services to the construction industry and endeavours to ensure that its certification is required by major companies operating in the construction supply chain in the UK, Europe, Middle East and the Far East in particular.www.ukcares.co.uk

UKASThe United Kingdom Accreditation Service (Ukas) is the sole national accreditation body that is recognised by the UK Government to assess, against internationally agreed standards, organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services. Accreditation by Ukas demonstrates the competence and performance capability of these evaluators.www.ukas.com

Why use standards’ certified products and processes?

Several benefits can be gained by following processes and using products that are certified as meeting recognised international standards, including:

• Higher build quality;

• Lower maintenance costs;

• Increased safety during the construction period;

• Lower risk of problems at commissioning stage;

• Better health and safety levels during post-build operation;

• Fewer problems with component compliance during future system expansions;

• Increased operational life of individual components and the overall building.

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