Digital Construction Summit: ‘Risks mounting’ for contractors with poor digital records

Contractors who can’t show accurate digital records face mounting reputational, contractual and regulatory risks – and could eventually end up being in breach of the law.

That was the warning from Anne-Marie Friel, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, who highlighted how contractors not in the process of adopting digital information models capable of fulfilling the Hackitt review’s call for a golden thread of information could find themselves on a burning platform. 

Speaking to an audience at the Digital Construction Summit last week, organised by Construction Manager and BIM+, she cautioned: “Maintaining the status quo of poor records and poor information on your assets is actually risky and it is only getting riskier. This is regardless of the new regulations that are likely to come post Hackitt report. However, for some buildings affected by potential new legislation, it may even become illegal.”

“Some of you might think [the coming regulations] only apply to high-rise residential buildings. Think again. In all likelihood this is going to apply to all more complex buildings and who knows what else in the future.”

Friel predicted that more stringent requirements from insurers when it came to what information contractors had to disclose about their projects in order to obtain project indemnity insurance was likely to drive the uptake of BIM further.

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Meanwhile, Jack Ostrofsky, head of design and technical at Peabody, who was also taking part in a panel discussion recalled how, when working for another housing association, he was involved in eight latent defect claims against contractors over social housing blocks that were found to contain dangerous aluminium composite (ACM) cladding in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

We are all aware of the golden thread, but what is missing is the people in the supply chain to populate that information. – Jack Ostrofsky, Peabody

Ostrofsky said: “Not a single one of the contractors for those eight buildings had accurate records. In many cases, the ACM cladding was substituted. There were discussions with their lawyers and my lawyers about whether it was legal or not but once I opened up the buildings, I had no problem proving latent defect claims because the workmanship in every case was appalling. The main contractor generally doesn’t know what the subcontractor is putting on the building that I am buying.”

Acknowledging that Peabody was “ahead of the curve” as a client, Ostrofsky nonetheless expressed concern about the construction sector as a whole.

He added: “We are all aware of the golden thread, but what is missing is the people in the supply chain to populate that information. Since about 2010, we have had a dramatic increase in the complexity in residential construction – and there are things that we don’t know that we don’t know.”

Scott Sanderson, partner – technical & BIM at PRP Architects, said: “I do think the industry is massively challenged to translate good process concept into day-to-day behaviour, and a new culture of quality. I am really hungry to see the conversation around quality of information, clarity of brief, clarity of process and quality control delivered and becoming meaningful in our projects.”

Andrew Pryke, managing director of BAM Design, also agreed that there was an “obvious need” for the golden thread. He explained how BAM was advancing its digital information capabilities, developing a systems operation and maintenance ‘golden thread’.

This was recently put it into place when it retrofitted Wharfedale Hospital in Leeds, which BAM had built 10 years previously with no data. The new system allowed BAM to provide accurate, detailed information to satisfy fire inspectors who later visited the hospital, Pryke explained.

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