Independent consultants should be engaged at the start of building projects to ensure that designs are suitable for client requirements and that construction complies with the design, a leading industry figure says.

In his latest article published on his LinkedIn account, Grant Warner, chief executive officer of the Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, says a sleuth of investigations and reports had demonstrated quality problems on major building projects in Australia.

These include the Shergold and Weir Report (Building Confidence – February 2018); the Murray Report (Review of Security of Payment Laws – December 2017); and recent findings associated with the Lacrosse apartment building fire in Melbourne’s Docklands and the Opal Tower structural damage in Sydney’s Olympic Park.

According to Warner, several causes lie behind these failures.

Efforts to allocate disproportionate levels of project risk onto contractors, consultants and subcontractors meant that risks are not being managed by those who have the power to control them, Warner said.

As well, pressure on fees is compromising the level of service which contractors and consultants are able to provide.

Moreover, Warner said the demise of the traditional role of Clerk of Works employed by architects or clients to inspect materials and workmanship throughout construction has seen certification and compliance relegated to checks performed at specific stages by a small number of players.

This, he says, means there is an absence of mechanism to ensure that all aspects of design and construction accord with the design agreed to by the client, any necessary specifications required in the contract or the National Construction Code.

Whilst building surveyors are often blamed for lack of verification during construction, Warner says many of these matters do not form part of their contractual obligations.

He says the solution lies in the engagement of an independent Audit Consultant.

Engaged at the inception of projects, this person would be tasked with ensuring that designs were suitable to meet requirements as specified by the client.

He or she would also then monitor construction whilst the asset is being built to ensure that what is specified in design, in client requirements and in the National Construction Code is actually delivered on site.

According to Warner, this person should provide procurement advice best suited to the project; understand construction and approval processes; understand the risks associated with construction at all stages; be well versed in contract administration and management; and provide independent, impartial and expert advice in relation to strategies to minimise risks associated with time, cost, quality, environment, and safety.

He says quantity surveyors are able to do this and currently undertake an independent reviewer role on many public private partnership projects.

“The push from the top down has been the delivery of construction projects for the cheapest price possible,” Warner said.

“Anybody who has been involved in the industry is well aware of the three critical maxims of construction; Time – Cost – Quality. This includes the provision of consultancy services across the construction sector.

“Governments typically view this from the basis of saving public money, while in the private sector maximising profit is the driver.

“Unfortunately, the cheaper the product or service invariably results in a lower quantity outcome.

“Similarly, the quicker the required turnaround (with the exception of incorporating prefabricated products), the lower the quality outcome. Conversely, the higher the product / service cost, invariably results in an optimal outcome for both the client and end user alike.

“To address these risk factors associated with the construction industry, an independent Audit Consultant should be engaged at project inception to ensure project design reflects the clients’ requirements and the actual construction complies with the design.”