De kritiske problemstillingene ved kontroll av nye bygg
For å forstå de ulike problemstillingene vi står ovenfor i bygg – og anleggsbransjen, kan det å tilby tilstrekkelig kontroll og tilsyn være en stor del av løsningen. Dette vil gi en mulighet til å være i forkant, før uheldige hendelser inntreffer, og det er for sent.
Specifying distinct roles and responsibilities for each of the parties within the construction team would be the first step. Sometimes, the issues faced are not about the design group's designed solutions, but about built solutions, which is a contractor's responsibility. This raises several questions regarding control and supervision, throughout various design stages. There is a critical difference between the design solutions which are mostly controlled and the built solutions which are mostly uncontrolled.
A Glimpse at The History
In Norway, before 1997, building authorities had a far more active role in assessing and approving fire solutions. However, afterwards, competence requirements were set, and the fire advisor role gained more importance. One of the special competences was that of fire safety engineering, which was previously handled by the architect and various specialist advisors. Thus, starting 1997, qualified fire advisors were required to perform those tasks.
The product from the fire advisor was usually a performance description report (referred to as Fire report, fire strategy, fire technical concept, etc.), which summed up the governmental requirements from the Plan and Building Act and the technical regulations. This mainly demonstrated how the fire escape routes and the defined fire performance were to be performed, often acquired from the guidelines. As such a fire concept will act as the basis for the detailed design, a prerequisite must be that its users can fully understand and perceive the specified performance requirements and assumptions applied. If those assumptions were overlooked, regardless of the reason, wrong solutions might be selected, solution that would affect the overall fire safety of the building.
Previously, the role of the fire engineer was limited to developing the aforementioned document, with minimal involvement afterwards. Those handling the detailed architectural design should make sure that it meets the performance requirements of the fire concept. Any deviating solutions are to be treated as discrepancies, documented, and eventually reviewed with the fire strategy. Unfortunately, special fire objects are the only ones which require supervision of the fire documentation in the operational phase. However, the contractor/entrepreneur’s responsibilities are specifically high in Norway, and their extent usually depends on the form and size of the construction. Solution selection is part of the design process, which should not include the contractor. Nevertheless, it is still practiced that the executing party (the contractor) will choose some documented solutions or amend them during the construction phase.
Who's in control?
Control and supervision, whether internal or assigned to other actors in the form of independent control, is essential. When holding an entity responsible for conducting control, it is assumed that they possess quality assurance systems that maintain control in a satisfactory manner. All control within a specific area of expertise should abide by the local building authority regulations through verification declarations. Though local authorities have the right to supervise construction issues, such supervision is usually limited to control of the systems used and comparing them against the requirements. Moreover, audits performed are against documents, and rarely against actual constructed solutions.
Why do errors occur?
Construction projects are often characterized by time constraints, demands for financial control, and the pressure executed by the contractor/entrepreneur especially against subcontractors – there is always a need to cut costs somehow. Usually, the design and solution choices must be taken care of by the engineering group, the entrepreneur or contractor should not be allowed to make decisions on engineering solutions. However, in certain types of contracts, it is accepted to make certain redesign decisions provided that the delivered/built result satisfies the requirements of the rules and regulations. In such contracts, it would be very important to document all the chosen solutions that are deviated from the original.
Performance requirements in VTEK (Veiledning til Byggeteknisk forskrift) are usually one solution proposals that the authorities believe will satisfy the regulatory requirements. That solution proposal is regarded as a template, and thus, deviations of that must be documented. When the building becomes in use, this becomes crucial to verify that the building satisfies the VTEK. Though insufficient documentation doesn’t necessarily mean that VTEK is not fulfilled, but it might indicate that the reaching of a “correct” final product could have been accidental, and that it depends on the competence of the executing party.
Deviations from the performance requirements during the construction stage (even those listed in the fire concept) could be due to the selection of cheaper alternatives for short-term economic benefits or being restricted by a tight timeframe. However, the reason is sometimes simply because of errors that are not amended due to minor chances of those being checked. Lack of supervision at the construction site results in that error.
Nevertheless, an underlying reason for deviations is the insufficient interdisciplinary communication of fire technical requirements in the construction process. A lack of knowledge among players (other than the fire engineers) can also lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. As there is still no established joint practice in the industry among fire engineers, designers, contractors, solution selectors, and executors – this remains to be an issue.
Moreover, there isn’t any clear traceability of the documentation when it comes to anomalies. In theory, when an error occurs with a certain detail at the execution level, one should be able to go back and check the description, design, and control of that specific details, but that’s usually not possible. One of the reasons today why there are still many flaws and shortcoming may be the lack of supervision. If there is no real possibility that the errors will be detected, there won’t be an emphasis on detection and correction of those errors – fixing takes time and costs money!
Another problem could be that the processes and requirements of fire technical documentation are not well defined. The basis for establishing a functional system that safeguards the fire requirements throughout the construction process. What we currently lack is an interdisciplinary agreement which specifically states how the processes should be achieved effectively and what the documentation needs to convey accordingly.
The failure of fire safety measures can take place at any given stage of the design and construction process, in which nothing suggests that one of those phases has more failure rate than the others. This could result in fire safety regulations such as the ones listed in VTEK are not carried forward through the design, solution selection, execution, until the finished constructed project, especially due to the lack of supervision throughout all various phases. The decision on certain solutions is sometimes left completely to the executing contractor, and that could pose some major issues. Though supervision can reveal errors in traceability, it doesn’t necessarily reveal those in design or execution. This calls for a need of interdisciplinary competence with supervisory personnel and continuous inspections at the construction site.
Municipalities might be required to concentrate on an increased level of supervision, both for documentation and construction inspections. Feasibility considerations might require limiting the scope of that supervision, but it should not go below a certain level. In larger projects, independent control might be the best solution, as it ensures nonbiased results and thus better supervision.
The Need for Interdisciplinary Documentation and Guidance
Perhaps the need for a joint interdisciplinary written guidance is arising. Such a guidance can become a common template for all different actors, thus limiting the vagueness of what is required in terms of design, descriptions, documentation of solution choices, practical and applied workmanship, control and supervision of construction, as well as control of various operations and any possibility of reconstruction or amendments. Such a guidance needs to be binding and fully agreed on by all actors.
Moreover, the choice of solutions should always take place at the design phase, and be controlled by the designers themselves, then carried out - as specified - by the executing contractors. The designers/ fire engineers will thus be the ones taking responsibility for the effectiveness of these solutions. A clear chain of responsibility is essential. If errors rise during the construction phase, the engineering firm would be the one responsible to provide detailed solutions for the problem, rather than the contractor just “winging it”.
Controlling the process
To fully control the process, a document record for project-specific documents and drawings need to be present. This document record would include all the checked/validated documents related to this project and be available to all those involved in both the construction and supervision of the specific solutions. This should also include responsibilities of all various elements of the projects, so that could be pinned correctly upon actors. It is also very important to document the “executed” or “as built” solutions, which would also be part of the control and supervision process.
It might also be beneficial to have a unified set of technical drawings, especially for detailing works, which includes fire safety solutions along with other technical information. This would allow for easier reading of details and a holistic approach to fire safety.
Kort om journalisten:
Amani Habbal er en libanesisk arkitektingeniør med en spesiell interesse for fagfeltet sikkerhet. Hun har også en Mastergrad i brannsikkerhet fra Høgskulen på Vestlandet (HVL), som hun var ferdig med i 2020. Hun har siden begynnelsen av 2021 jobbet som Graduate Fire Engineer ved Arup UK.
Vi er så heldige at Habbal vil skrive for Brennaktuelt.no med jevne mellomrom fremover.
Ulfsnes, M. K., & Danielsen, U. (2004). Ivaretakelse av branntekniske krav i byggeprosessen. Trondheim: SINTEF.
SINTEF. (2020). Fire Safety. Retrieved from SINTEF - Architecture and Constructions: https://www.sintef.no/en/fire/
Image source: https://www.evacuatoralarms.com/blog/fire-safety-on-construction-sites-guide/