Trust but verify

16 November 2020

In the UK construction industry, time and effort are inextricably linked to trust and risk. The scope of trust and risk in the client, contractor and worker triangle is usually shaped by a financially induced willingness to get something built, repaired or refurbished. An incredible range of risk factors exist at all levels in the procurement and construction process. The big risks factors are a loss of money, accidents or delays which can be measured in currency, claims and LAD’s.

Prequalification questionnaires seek to assess the risk and performance capabilities of prospective tenderers. Insurance, financials, reputation and resources are documented and usually examined by a risk-conscious panel.

Risk evaluations receive more attention from Clients and contractors because they are tangible and can be measured. This is in contrast with weak trust systems that have been offered by the construction industry and tolerated by its Clients for a long time. Trust is a valuable quality, but it is prone to inconsistency and inevitable breakdown as teams are formed and then dissolved according to the temporal nature of construction projects.

Many Clients rightly reward the efforts of individuals and enterprises who demonstrate high-level outcomes in the performance of construction activity based on trust; providing of course that the price is right!

All services in the construction industry are important. Each provider must be examined by the Client to ensure that they are capable of safely meeting the desired budget and performance outcomes of the task or project. Some building services require much closer scrutiny before their appointment, especially those that support the life-safety and property functions. In the area of electrical work, for example, the subjective nature of trust must be secondary to the objective measurements of risk.

Due to skill shortages and lack of authentic apprenticeship training, some UK electrical service providers have become reliant on an extended supply chain that includes unqualified, underqualified and self-designated electrical workers. The risk of using such workers is not always apparent, as inevitably “the lights seem to work just fine”. However, recurring and intermittent problems (often remain latent in client property when work is installed or repaired by those who are not qualified, sufficiently experience or supervised.

The ability to rely on another person or entity to act or protect your interest in the provision of electrical maintenance or installation services must be tested.

Questions for Clients

1. How do you know that an appointed electrical contractor is employing qualified electricians and accredited apprentices to perform work on your property or equipment?
2. How do you monitor the competency and workforce composition of an appointed electrical contractor’s workforce?
3. How would you defend your legal, moral and financial position for using unqualified, underqualified or self-designated electrical workers?

Verify and Monitor v Trust

The CDM regulations place a management burden on Clients to ensure that the competency of a supplier’s workforce is appropriately matched to the risk demands of their project.

Clients are also obliged to ensure that such steps are effectively maintained and monitored. A defense based on trust will not stand up well in court. Effective monitoring of an electrical contractor’s workforce using online technology and site-based auditing will help clients and responsible electrical contractors save money, lives and time.

Tips for Clients

1. Insist that the identity and occupational credentials of each electrical worker are authenticated before allowing work to commence on your project.
2. Enhance your Project Managers ability to protect your legal, moral and financial interests with independent, online monitoring and quality assured onsite auditing.
3. Ensure that the workforce composition of your appointed electrical contractor is matched to the requirements of your specific projects.
4. Avoid becoming blindsided with baseline health and safety passports as the principle means of attesting technical capability.
5. Insist on visibility and accountability from the industry concerning the technical composition of the electrical contractor’s workforce.