Tuesday, 23 December 2014

10 industry-changes the coming decade must experience

10 industry-changes the coming decade must experience

The last decade has seen significant changes in the construction industry in India. Whilst there has been technological advancement in the construction works, some aspects of the industry still remain incompetent and ultimately impact the project outcomes in terms of the cost, time and quality. We, as Project Managers, are the first to experience the effects of such project in-competencies.
Every project is distinct in its own respect. However, we may note that there are a few common issues with all of them. These issues if tackled in an efficient and organized manner may reduce a lot of our grief. The construction industries across the developed nations have a robust system which safeguards its participants in all respects. And whilst the Indian construction industry has not advanced to that stage, we remain hopeful that we can catch-up with the developed nations in a decade’s time.

Here are some of the key changes we would like to see in the industry:

1. Standard Contracts
Use of standardized contact forms for engagement of consultants, contractors and sub-contractors. The benefit of standardized contracts is that they are not biased towards the Client / the contractor and give fair terms of engagement to the parties involved. Indian Standards for construction contracts should be established similar to the FIDIC, Australian Standards, etc. Government agencies should make it mandatory to utilize such standard contract for all government funded projects.

2. Payment Regulations
Non-payment or late payment is a very common complaint in the construction projects, which sometimes results in delays and disputes between the parties involved. The government should formulate Regulations/Acts that can formalize the payment cycles and provide respite and formal channels of claiming the outstanding dues. Such cases should be handled by independent, government accredited bodies to expedite such claims and not follow the regular judiciary process which takes years to get a hearing on the case.
One such example is the ‘Security of Payments Act’ followed in Australia.

3. Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S)
Whilst the industry has seen a tremendous improvement on this front over the last decade, there is a lot more to be achieved. OH&S not just relates to wearing hard hats and safety vest but involves every aspect in which an occupational hazard can be avoided. OH&S is both generic and specific to the industry. The government should make it mandatory for all construction industry personnel to undertake a general induction on OH&S and issue certificates or license for the same. In addition to this, site OH&S induction should be made mandatory for every person entering the site.

4. Hazardous Waste Management
An issue that is highly talked about, yet, the most ignored when it comes to construction industry is Waste Management. In addition to air and water pollution, there are other more toxic pollutants that affect the environment and people exposed to it. One example is asbestos-health effects of prolonged exposure to asbestos are known to cause cancer. While asbestos is banned for use in European Union, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and New Zealand, its use is still prevalent in India. The government should make efforts to eliminate the use of asbestos in construction and also regulate the disposal of asbestos in a safe manner. 

5. Formal training for construction trades
Tradesmen in Indian construction industry often inherit the skills or learn by experience working on sites, which is not always a bad way to learn. However, the trade skills need to be recognized as vocational subjects in universities and formal training on best practices should be provided to the aspiring candidates. This will not only set standards to the trade but also recognize the trades as respectable and skilled professions. Skilled personnel on projects will reduce the amount of defects considerably.

6. Construction quality benchmarks
Quality often seems to be a variable factor with different contractors. It would be beneficial to set some standard benchmarks for the class of finishes. For example, concrete finish when used as a super-structure and when used as exposed concrete will be different. However, a standard guide which outlines the parameters of the different classes of concrete will greatly assist the designers and contractors to specify finishes.

7. Work Methods
India has a huge reserve of inexpensive manual labour, which is largely used in the construction industry. The use of machinery in construction, to some extent has been directly influenced by the availability of cheap labour in the country. While the last decade has seen some changes in this perspective, there are more aspects that can be adopted in the work methods. For example, use of plastering machines, use of stairform for staircase construction, permanent form systems for cores, etc.

8. Municipal approvals process
One of the most tentative/ uncertain events in the project schedule is the municipal approvals, which obviously impacts the overall project duration and ultimately cost. It would be ideal if the local municipalities regulate the approval process with definite timelines and provide transparency on the application status. Special approval authorities should be established for major projects, thus minimizing the work load on the regular approvals in municipalities.

9. Independent Certification
Once the initial project approvals are received for the project, ongoing approvals like the Commencement Certificates, Occupation Certificate, etc. are dependent on the visit from the municipal officer to the site and then the officer processing the necessary paperwork. This is a time consuming process and most of the municipalities are understaffed to undertake these visits.

In most developed nations, the same function is undertaken by an Independent Certifier, who is authorized by the municipal authorities and appointed by the Client. The introduction of independent certifier in the process reduces the already understaffed and overworked municipalities and also makes the process of certification quicker for the project team. This concept would greatly benefit in the Indian context.

10. Understanding professional indemnity
It’s a usual practice for service providers in the construction industry, who provide professional advice, to cover themselves by the professional indemnity insurance. Professional indemnity insurance covers the service provider from bearing the full cost for defending negligence claims made by the client.

Whilst we all understand the intent and extent of our professional indemnity, we as Project Managers, often find ourselves crossing boundaries. Example – It is often found that Project Managers end up providing sketches of architectural details at site. With all good intentions, it is provided in order to avoid delays; however are we covered for it? Does our professional indemnity insurance cover design services if we are project managers? The answer is no, unless you are a multi-disciplinary company. In case of a mishap resulting from the professional advice of individual Project Manager, the company would be liable for the negligence claims.

Industry professionals and companies need to appreciate their professional limits and instill  these limits as corporate guidelines.

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