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Best practice standards used in the construction industry.

If you’ve read our article on the civil engineering code of conduct, you’ll be familiar with some best practices in construction projects.  In this article we’re going to focus on the best practice standards used in the construction industry.

What are best practices?

In civil engineering and the construction industry, best practices are defined by construction standards.  These standards are issued by governing bodies and institutions, for example ISO – the International Organisation for Standardisation.  These standards are ongoing and are updated whenever lessons have been learned, there are technical industrial innovations, or research developments.

Lessons learned are experiences from previous construction projects, and they are collected by standards governing bodies.  They can then use this to update standards with additional guidelines or specification to mitigate issues in the construction industry.

Technical innovations normally relate to material and/or software related advancements that can improve sustainability, efficiency, or durability.  These approved technical advancements are adopted into the relevant standards.

Research developments within accredited institutions and research bodies can help improve technical solutions. If they are approved, then they will also be adopted into the relevant standards.

What are some of the standards?

In the UK there are three main types of construction and design standards – ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation), EN (Eurocodes and related standards), and BS (British Standards).  The main difference between these standards is their service area.

ISO is an international standard and has been adopted by 173 countries.  It is seen as an umbrella standard which covers a large area and therefore is seen as a more generalised standard.

Before the issue of the Eurocodes, each European country had different design standards, which led to many inconsistencies within construction design.  This also led to inconsistencies in the quality of the structures built.  Eurocodes were introduced to formalise the design process with guidance to be adopted by all European countries.  They provide a specific set of standards for the European region and have also been adopted in the UK for more standardisation.

Many of the British standards were adopted before the Eurocodes because they provide a more locally specific standardisation unique to the UK.  There are still used for those areas of construction, material and structural specifications not covered by the Eurocodes.  An example is the BS-8500, the British standard for concrete and cement specifications unique to the UK.  The reasoning for this difference is because each country has unique factors that can influence the specification, for example climate or natural disasters.  These unique factors might influence the type of cement composition that might be recommended in the UK but would not be recommended in another country. You can find out more about the differences in the Eurocodes and British standards in this video.

Why do we need standards?

As buyers and users of products we very quickly notice if they turn out to be poor quality, if they don’t fit, or if they aren’t compatible with the equipment we already have.  Standards help to ensure that products and services have a minimum level of:

  • Quality
  • Safety
  • Reliability
  • Efficiency
  • Interchangeability

This creates a level of understanding, reduces the costs of specifications and procurement, can simplifies risks.

The enrolment of the ISO, Eurocodes and British Standards have been the answer to the wider call for more harmonised standards.  While geographical acceptability, relevance and a level of detail were reasons for harmonised standards, there are also other drivers.   These include a level playing field for everyone in the trade, underpinning government legislations and customer experience and compatibility with their existing technology.

It brings together the different types of standards that are relevant to civil engineers, such as:

  • Products, for example materials
  • Processes, for example design
  • Testing, for example conformity.

We’re going to continue looking at standards, best practise and ethics in other articles, so make sure you keep an eye out for them if you want to find out more.

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