Error prevention is an investment not a cost

8 Dec 21

An error-prevention strategy should be viewed as an investment not a cost, said David Anderson, head of business process and quality at BAM Nuttall, as he presented a case study demonstrating almost £1 million in cost savings at the GIRI members’ meeting and annual review on 10 November 2021.

“Prevention is always better than cure,” said David. “We know there are £21bn worth of issues, but that’s only the money. There are all the other issues associated with these errors, such as carbon and safety. This is not just about money and one of the keys is realising that we are not talking about cost, we’re talking about effectiveness, productivity, safety, carbon reduction, and sustainability – that’s actually what comes out of error reduction.”

But how do you drive error prevention? For BAM Nuttall is was about adopting a new mindset. “We didn’t look at the norm; that’s hard to change. We’re looking at progressive error prevention. This is what we have been trying to embed in our culture. We’re trying to get people to think differently. Previously, we looked at what went wrong in the past. That’s like driving looking in the rear-view mirror and it only gets you so far. When driving, you also have to be aware of what is going on around you, and you have to be aware of what impact you may have on someone else, on another trade.”

David argued that forward-looking error-prevention strategies are also essential in what is an era of massive and rapid technological change. “We have to look ahead at what errors might occur in the future, and what errors we need to address now before what we think is a good idea becomes a very bad idea. But how do we get people to think like that? That is what we have been working on at BAM Nuttall, using a combination of GIRI training and our own training, to get people thinking differently about error.”

He pointed out that construction has a lot to learn from manufacturing about looking forward. “Toyota has a 50-year strategy; in construction we look at next week. We need to change that mindset.”

It will require investment and a multi-pronged approach that integrates investment in people with investment in technology and does not just focus on processes. “We need to ensure that people have the capability to consider that they are doing, what could go wrong, and what might happen in the future.”

David shared some examples of results that BAM Nuttall has seen as a result of its strategy, including a reduction in non-conformancies. “Interestingly, we also saw that by getting people to think differently, we saw an increase in the number of non-conformancies but a reduction in their impact. People were identifying them earlier.”

A second example demonstrated the return on investment that error-prevention strategies can deliver. David said that BAM Nuttall had previously been spending around £1.2 million a year rectifying defects with protective coatings. “So we introduced an expert and a whole process across the business focused on identifying problems early. We now get involved in the design stage, working with designers to design out errors, working collaboratively with our supply chain before we have even taken out a paint brush.”

The results speak for themselves. £1.2 million a year has dropped to roughly £100,000 a year – a saving of approximately £950,000. “With the tight margins we have in construction, that is significant.

“Error prevention is not a cost, it is an investment. By eliminating errors, not only can we contribute to economic success, we can also positively impact society, reduce carbon, reduce our environmental impact, and improve safety.”


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