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Science can be Applied to the Building Industry to Prevent Conflict

Jerry Tyrrell explains how the fundamentals of science can be applied to the building industry when it comes to conflict prevention and solution.

Australian building industry

Next year my colleagues and I will inspect our 100,000th building. We have seen millions of surprisingly stupid mistakes and defects. And, in so many cases, the cost of doing the work properly in the first place was minimal and any stuff up was unintentional. Many times the contractor wanted to fix the problem properly but wasn’t able to because he didn’t know how to or suppliers and manufacturers were the real villains or just didn’t help him. So the client and every eventual owner and manager have had to maintain or put up with something that was made badly and continued to cause problems, cost or inconvenience.

And it still goes on. For four decades I have watched governments let the same problems reoccur and there is little or no strategy from the many industry associations and professional institutes about how to prevent faults and defects, except for engineers of course. Errors create problems. Little problems easily escalate into a complaint and conflict fans a complaint into a dispute. Conflict doesn’t work. It is unproductive, negative and costing Australia a fortune. Consumers and contractors rarely recover from a minor, let alone major building dispute.

Science works. It is the basis of just about every success in the built environment. Science can prevent, reduce, solve and teach every person in our industry. Every mature industry uses it including medicine, engineering, sport and farming. Tradesmen sometimes discover science indirectly through the brilliance of their teachers and bosses as they train.
I believe there are thousands of years of oral history behind the craftsmanship we need to use in our buildings. I have known excellent tradesmen that could barely read but knew exactly how to join, dress, blend and drain materials. Besides, a mind filled with information about every part of their trade is priceless.

A day rarely goes by without me learning something from all of you…but no one is capturing this intel for the industry. This is bad building, bad business and bad science. Why does every material we use get tested BEFORE we can use it but not scrutinised when it fails or underperforms? We all lose.

The manufacturer takes years to find out and get the chance to improve its products. Specifiers such as architects and designers continue to include faulty products and details in their designs. Builders blindly follow instructions and then have call backs and face costly repairs without any cost recovery. Unless they start a witch hunt they cannot afford it.

Science delivers success in two ways – prevention and knowledge. In my opinion, knowledge is the main ingredient in prevention. So why is it so hard to get all the stakeholders to agree on what science we need and be using to build properly? I can’t answer that. But maybe the following table might help focus us on what can easily be done.

Soon I hope we reduce the level of mistakes in our industry. I hope we stop fighting with clients. I hope all associations start funding quicker advice to all of us about industry wide problems remaining unsolved. And I sincerely hope that everyone rewards good science in our industry. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe in future we might start giving a ‘Nobel Prize’ of building to recognise the best innovators and applicators of science in our industry.


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