Responsible Clients deserve better

Better accountability

Across the UK, there is a litany of small, medium and large projects that have run into delay or experienced significant disruption due to endemic supply chain weaknesses in the construction industry. Projects delays are inconvenient for Clients and often costly in terms of cash and reputational damage for hard-pressed construction teams.

The outcome of any project is usually determined by the input to that project, i.e. “you get out what you put in.”  The acronym GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) is used in the computer science world to remind programmers of the predictable and negative impacts that flow from poorly conceived inputs.

Destructive bugs enter software when time or budgetary constraints prevent adequate assessment or alpha-beta testing. Some bugs have immediate impact while others carry a latent threat to the functionality of essential equipment or processes. Monitoring the emergence of a computer bug is the next line of defence for technology companies. Fast-peddling IT exercises ensue to produce an all-important fix or update when the bug inconveniently emerges to slow, disable or halt operations and functionality.

With respect to the human factor in the analogy, a parallel can be drawn between the IT industry and the Construction industry. Clients of both industries engage in a series of workshops or consultations to determine the scope, budget and timeframe requirements of the intended project. Getting it right at the concept stage, is likely to mean that the basis of good design and execution of the project will follow.

However, success is not guaranteed! Few, if any, client/designer/developer teams, manage to cover everything in tender specification. Most projects eventually produce lots of additions and even a few omissions as a result of oversight or unforeseen project requirements.

Individual worker competency

One area were modern procurement of building services often fails to make adequate provision, is the specification and monitoring of individual worker competency. Given that most of the installation of containment, cables, plant, equipment, lights and accessories are carried out by people, it seems remarkable that little is said about the precise occupational identity, definition and competency of the appointed electrical sub-contractor’s workforce.

In the UK Construction industry, almost all manual trades are awash with unqualified and underqualified workers. Plumbing, heating, welding and wet trades have also been affected by the decline in skills and standards.  Many Clients are often ignorant, tolerant or in some cases blindsided, to the consequences of using of such workers.

We’ll change the GIGO acronym to QIQO, i.e., Quality In- Quality Out, to dignify the position of people over IT programmes. The principle of QIQO is universally understood and accepted by most responsible buyers. Therefore, it follows that greater attention should be given to determining the (electrical) competency and composition of a contractor’s direct and indirect workforce, prior to their input to the project.

Most responsible procurement organisations aim to put measures in place to ensure that the occupational identity and competency of the individual workers is established and monitored. However, the method of achieving this outcome has been dependant on dated technology and administratively burdensome practices.

For example, plastic card printers have given rise to the use of fake electrical trade cards and modern colour photocopiers facilitate in the production of counterfeit qualifications. Online follow up checks are available.  However, these tend to increase the administrative burden of discovery on the Client, and for this reason they are probably not widely or consistently used.

Who done it?

The question of “who done it” is ultimately brought to the fore by the growing number of UK public enquiries into serious incidents, some of which tragically involve fire leading to death, injury, loss of property and much more. Some investigators make use of the 5w’s –  who, why, where, what and when to ascertain cause and effect, with a view to determining responsibility and producing recommendations.

Evidence of ascertaining, monitoring and auditing individual and workforce competency on a project is essential to a good defence when things go wrong. Record keeping in the Construction industry can be a hit and miss affair. Some Clients ensure that their appointed main contractor is appropriately resourced to gather, collate and retain the health and safety credentials of site workers. However, only a few main contractors are directed by Clients to cross-reference health and safety credentials with the necessary evidence of individual electrical worker competency. As a result, traceability and accountability can become difficult or impossible to determine.

Failure to ascertain, monitor and audit individual and workforce electrical competency is an established blind spot for many Construction industry Clients. This fault gives rise to unintended consequences on the Clients side, e.g. the use of underqualified workers, impedes apprenticeship recruitment and increases reliance on only one or two go-to qualified workers. Quality of work, safety, functionality and whole life cost expectations are undermined when electrical QIQO principles are ignored or overlooked.

Prevention is better that cure – except when it comes to paying!

Responsible Clients are not well served by the Construction industry in terms of being able track and manage individual worker competency. The principle reason for the condition can be linked to the breakdown and absence of effective control and accountability measures on the industry’s side. Clients of the industry have traditionally been offered a system based on the presentation of a plastic card which often requires them to undertake an administratively burdensome one person at time, online checking procedure.

The UK Government spends immense sums of public money on electrical installation work in HealthCare, MOD and other Departmental construction projects that in many cases are not carried out by qualified electrical workers. Some Clients have become acclimatised to sponsoring the service of electrical sub-contractors on a trust basis in terms of individual worker competency. By doing so, Clients are choosing to believe and accept that the workers of an appointed contractor’s workforce are appropriately qualified to carry out electrical work on their project. Some control is afforded by good project and contract management procedures and use of the CDM regulations. However, these resources often lack precision and tend to become an administrative box ticking exercise when assessing and monitoring the electrical competency of a contractor’s workforce.

Clients deserve better

We think Clients deserve better, we also think qualified, competent workers and responsible contractors deserve better. Too many unqualified, underqualified and self-designated electrical workers have entered the supply chain breaking the traditional virtuous loop of industry apprenticeship training.

Responsible Clients of the Construction industry need a modern fit for purpose resource that helps them answer the big questions when it comes to a claim, investigation or Public enquiry., e.g.,

  • “Do you have an effective system in place that evaluates, monitors and audits the competency of workers on your project?”
  • “How would you defend yourself in court for using unqualified electrical workers on your construction project?

Qualified and competent workers are the UK electrical industry’s best asset. However, these workers are increasingly displaced by parts of the industry who have become reliant on unregulated and extended labour supply chains.

We think the industry should be responsible for the automatic, up-front, online disclosure of the occupational identity and electrical competency of project workers before and during the delivery of site activities. The SparkSafe Licence to Practise system has been designed and is currently achieving these outcomes on one billion pounds plus worth of construction projects.

Perhaps it’s time to learn more about mitigating risks and improving control measures over those who are responsible for carrying out electrical work on your projects.

It’s time for UK Electrical Licence to Practise!