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Sat 19 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Standard operations

Construction Week investigates the standards expected of construction firms, after the building collapse in Dubai.

Standard operations
BSI Abu Dhabi general manager Ahmad Al Khatib recommends iso9001 for quality.
Standard operations
UK Cares’ Bowsher says don’t cut corners.
Standard operations
Sugden says some products will work only if installed in buildings of the same standard.

The recent collapse of a newly constructed building in Dubai has brought build quality to the fore and in particular the adherence to recognised standards and certifications. What is expected of construction firms and is this likely to change? Construction Week investigates.

The collapse of an eight-storey building in Deira in mid-August hit the headlines across the region. The fact that it was a new built property and there was no immediate reason for the collapse, such as a fire, heightened concern over why it had happened.

The results of an investigation by Dubai Municipality into the collapse are expected to be announced within the next few weeks. However, initial statements from the investigating committee have confirmed that aspects being included within their scope are whether suitable building materials were used in construction; whether the design of the structure was flawed; and the operational aspects of the project. One of the main ways to gauge all of these factors is whether they met approved standards and certifications.

But what does gaining recognised certifications actually mean and are the authorities likely to increase the stringency of their requirements following this latest incident?

Standard practice

There are a wide number of standards and certifications applicable to firms operating within the construction industry. Those that must be adhered to by law vary according to discipline and the local authority regulations, however, certain standards are now recognised globally and widely used throughout the industry.

"From a certification perspective, I would say that ISO14,001 for environment; OHSAS 18,001 for occupational health and safety; in addition, ISO9001 for quality [are among the main standards that must be adhered to in GCC countries]," states BSI Abu Dhabi general manager Ahmad Al Khatib.

In general, the certification of firms to such standards shows that they adhere to recognised methods of working that have been set out within the listed standard. The aim of doing so is to improve performance, efficiency and safety, with the certifications demonstrating the firm's achievements to outside parties. Although standards are voluntary and separate from legal and regulatory systems, they can be used to support or complement legislation.

Some of the other standards that are applicable within the industry relate to specific materials or products. "For reinforcing steel the product standard mainly used is the British Standard BS 4449: 1997," explains UK Cares executive director Ben Bowsher. "The standard requires either steel supplied by a company that has a valid accredited product certificate, which is normally supplied by Cares, or there should be a product testing regime applied, which approved each batch of steel from a non-certified source," he adds.

Such stringent quality control over products is imperative in the construction of buildings. The absence of approved and properly installed products can create major issues warns Passive Fire Protection Federation  (PFPF) chair David Sugden: "[In the case of passive fire systems] you can't test the installed system you need to have the products tested in a lab in a test rig.

But unless you install the materials and products in a building to the same standard as they were in the test rig then they won't perform in the same way," he warns.

How to get certified

• Identify the relevant certification body that works best for you

• Contact the relevant local authorities to establish what certifications are required

• Contact the certification body to determine their requirements

• Appoint an individual to oversee the implementation of the standards procedures

• Submit any required materials to the issuing body and/or allow access for any inspections needed prior to gaining certification

Controlled standards

Just how strictly are the application of standards and certifications enforced in the region and are firms complying? Again this appears to vary between countries, disciplines and the size of firms involved.

"In specific sectors like construction some of the standards are regulated," assures Khatib. "In Abu Dhabi, for example, the government started an initiative this year on regulating HSE implementation for the build and construction sector," he explains.

"I understand that, in the main, steel from Cares-certificated sources are used although it is apparent that sometimes this is not the case," reports Bowsher. "I have seen steel from sources of dubious origin supplied to reinforcement fabricators in this way, when in the UAE," he warns.

In general, the international firms comply with such standards as a matter of course and also seek certifications from any subcontractors they employ. A spokesperson from a major construction industry contractor comments: "We take services and materials from companies that are registered to certain ISO systems; also, from subcontractors we want to see health and safety discipline."

There are several reasons cited by major contractors for following internationally recognised standards that are not specifically required by law. These include the ability to standardise the company's processes and services to increase efficiency; plus the ability to bid for work in markets that require the additional standards such as the oil and gas sector, municipalities and government departments.

And for those standards that are legally required, ensuring that all work is carried out within guidelines is essential in order that the final building produced can be used. "Currently, before we can pour a [concrete] slab on site we have to get the work inspected by the municipality; they have to be convinced that the supporting structure is correct," states the spokesperson. "The municipality has to sign off the slab pour and we must show these documents before can get an occupation notice on completion of the building," he explains.

So with the Deira building collapse fresh in everyone's minds, are the regulations for the region's construction industry likely to become stricter?

"Not necessarily," stated Al Khatib. "This issue is more related to companies adhering to the local law and construction guidelines imposed by the local authorities rather than not having the right law in place. Nevertheless, it might raise a need for better or stronger specifications and standards."

Why we recommend getting certified

• Win contracts - being able to prove that your firm operates to internationally accepted standards and certifications can win you contracts

• Top Quality - operating to the methods given in accepted standards and certifications will ensure a better quality end-product

• Better H&S - health and safety standards both within the firm and on projects on which it is working will be improved

• Higher productivity - efficiency of operations and productivity increase when there are set and accepted standards under which to work

• Better assessments - benchmarks can be set to enable continuous improvement of the firm's operations to be accurately assessed

• Easier global expansion - it is easier to expand operations geographically if the firm is working to internationally recognised standards that are valid in many regions

"The need for standards and best practices is increasing due to the nature of high-profile, huge, extremely expensive projects in the Middle East region, there is a strong demand and need for international best practices and standards," adds Al Khatib.

Economic circumstances also play a part in any tightening of and adherence to standards, making the current situation a significant issue. "In the current economic climate, where costs are being driven down, there will be more temptation to cut corners on quality," warns Bowsher.

Enforcement of the standards is made by different local authorities throughout the region. "In the UAE, for example, Abu Dhabi Municipality is in charge of enforcing HSE (14 and 18) implementation and certification to the build and construction sector of Abu Dhabi," reports Al Khatib. "PFPF member firm Warrington Fire has a role with the Civil Defence Department of Dubai in setting and maintaining standards," adds Sugden.

Penalties for non-compliance vary according to the severity of the consequences that this would invoke and could involve a warning notice, fine, removal of trading license or, in the event of a death on site, the people deemed responsible can be jailed.

And aside from potential legal consequences, operating without applying recognised standard procedures can create even more serious issues. "The penalty for occupants if a passive fire system is not properly installed is death," stresses Sugden.

So what more can be done to ensure that buildings are constructed to international standards and standards-certified products are used on projects?

"Create national building regulations, design codes and product standards and enforce their use," suggests Bowsher.

Ensuring that the message reaches a wider audience is also vital. "Establishing forums where experts and end-users can get together to discuss several related issues and share ideas and working with the local authorities on regulating many of those standards," he adds.

Into the future

One of the major forthcoming events due to take place in the standards sector is the introduction of Eurocodes. These structural codes are scheduled to come into force in March 2010 and the flexibility of their design has meant that several countries outside of Europe have already committed to adopting Eurocodes reports the BSI.

BSI is currently working to identify existing regulations for construction.

The introduction of the Eurocodes has several objectives, including the provision of common design criteria for mechanical resistance; to form a common basis for research and development, in the construction industry; and to enable the preparation of common design aids and software. They are also intended to provide a common understanding regarding the design of structures between designers, manufacturers and contractors of construction products.

Other certifications and standards

There are numerous standards and certifications that can be applied to construction firms and their operations throughout the GCC countries. Some of the most widely recognised and followed are as follows.

ISO 9001

ISO 9001 outlines the requirements for a quality management system (QMS) ie a framework around which an organisation can control its processes in order to achieve set objectives including customer satisfaction, regulatory compliance and continual improvement.

First published in 1987, it was thoroughly revised for the third edition, which was introduced in 2000; changes included new requirements and a sharpened customer focus. The fourth and latest edition, ISO 9001:2008, does not require any specific reassessment for certification.

ISO 14001

ISO 14001 sets out the requirements for an organisation's environmental management system (EMS). It applies to those aspects over which an organisation can be deemed to have control or influence over. First published in 1996, it has since been updated several times.

OHSAS 18001

OHSAS 18001 provides specifications for Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Management Systems. It is intended to enable an organisation to control its health and safety risks and ensure a continually improving performance trough ongoing measurement and setting of targets. Registration to OHSAS 18001 by an independent, third party, certification body demonstrates a commitment to implement, maintain and improve the way in which you manage your health and safety system

BS 4449

BS 4449 is the specification for carbon steel bars used for the reinforcement of concrete. The standard lists the characteristic yield strength, tensile properties and

ductility of the three grades of steel approved for use on the reinforcement of concrete.

LEED

Developed by the US Green Building Council, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) rating system is used to establish the environmental accreditations 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 - each of which has a number of options. An environmental designer or Leed Accredited Professional (Leed AP) uses these categories to determine what environmental features the project can incorporate given its geography, goals and budget and assigns a certification level which range from certified to platinum.

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