BLOG: Joe Cilia – FIS Technical Director

In a follow-up to his last blog ‘Addressing fire proof, no proof and value engineering’, Joe Cilia turns his attention to the ‘I have always done it that way’ argument.

This particular “old chestnut” is often brought out in defence to justify work, process or decisions based on past experiences, how the individual was trained (or shown) or what was in the last copy of a guide that was read – the assumption is that it should be ok based on experience: but here is the nub, things change, and often that change is brought about from new information, scientific research or an event.

It isn’t hard to think of some examples that we wouldn’t countenance now, but may have been considered normal back in the day:
Lead was used in in a huge range of products until people realised the harmful effects it could have when it was used in toy soldiers, paint, and petrol, all now banned.

Asbestos was billed as the “magic mineral” and used commonly in construction applications such as pipe lagging, tiles and insulation, now banned because of the risk to health.

So as our understanding improves, as innovation drives improvement, new testing, scientific research or worst case, an unfortunate event informs us, it is not unreasonable that the way we design and build evolves too.

A huge catalyst for change is that we live in a digital age. This has both upside and downside risks. Up until recently the only way we could see what was up to date and current was to wait for the revised guide to be printed or go to the source. In the information age and with mobile phone in hand, online up to-date information is far more readily available and accessible – this is great, but it also throws up new risks – information needs to be contextualised and validated.

Anyone who has seen the recordings of the BBC blog of the Grenfell inquiry where individuals are being cross examined, will quickly realise the importance of questioning and having evidence of compliancy. As competent people (who rely on our skill, evolving knowledge, ethics and experience) it is our responsibility to check, as its clear that saying ‘I thought’ does not stand up to cross examination.

In the world of fit-out, where building interfaces differ, build height, environment, compatibility with other specified elements, where ultimately there is more choice, it is vital to ensure that all of the details are carefully considered. All to often the term “contractors choice” leaves a contractor assuming design responsibility and impossible decisions rushed through because of late appointment, a lack of foresight, poor planning and pressure on programme. FIS advice is always to:

• Stop – Don’t Assume
• Check
• Confirm

I cannot stress enough how crucial this last stage “confirm” is. Even where assumptions are checked, decisions must be validated. This risk is that without thorough and robust assessment, where the implications of size, interface, compatibility of abutting materials, loadings and fittings are considered, performance may differ drastically from what was intended. In my work I have seen many examples where the performance of a product is assumed yet the installation has been altered in a seemingly small way, but that ultimately renders all proof of performance invalid and makes the
body who added the new material the ‘Manufacturer’, without the protection of warranty and liable for ensuring the safety and producing test evidence against any claims.

Suppliers too are more cognisant of the challenge and reporting that they are seeing instances of trying to “prove designs” or develop “workable solutions” based on test evidence that had been developed to manage bespoke installations, but now is being employed erroneously as if a standard
detail. This practice, coupled with the concept of extended producer responsibility and tightening regulation is driving suppliers to become more risk adverse in the publication of information and even withdrawing information that they fear could be misleading, out-dated or open to misuse.

The challenge to the market is that in a world of ultimate design freedom we create a myriad of solutions. Whilst manufacturers and contractors will continue to work with designers to overcome individual challenges, we may start to see choice constrained by compliance and the practicality of
testing and bespoke solutions, better planned, properly costed and evidence more clearly contextualised and marked for use within the constraints of that specific project.

So don’t assume that what was used on a previous job would apply to the next job or that ‘Standard details’ are still current, check with the system owner/ supplier before designing and ask for confirmation in writing and add it to the project file in case you are asked.

Joe Cilia
Technical Director FIS
September 2020