The term Quality Assurance is a generic term for the idea that the quality of something is being managed. It can also be applied to the management of the potential for things to go wrong. The latter is often referred to as the management of "risk".
The management of risk is an essential part of the building product or method evaluation process. In the case of a building product (or system) the means by which the manufacturer (or importer/distributor) monitors and manages the potential for things to go wrong, needs to be included in the evaluation process. The evaluation of the performance of the design of an assembly of materials also needs to be part of the evaluation process.
What does Quality Assurance mean to a building product manufacturer (importer/distributor)?
To demonstrate to the public that a building product will meet and continue to meet the performance requirements of the New Zealand and or Australian building code(s), even after installation, a reliable quality assurance plan or programme is required. For this a written document is needed to show a) that the manufacturer has such a plan/programme, b) that the document can be used for explaining to other parties (such as suppliers or other distributors) what is expected in the management of risks, and c) as the starting point for training documents. The building product manufacturer or importer / distributor of a brand / range of building products, needs to consider the following steps in developing their own unique Building Product Quality Plan: (In this article we shall hereafter refer to a plan as a 'programme')
1. Scope the range of products to be covered
Determine which products are to be covered by the Building Product Quality Plan. These products need their own unique description or trade name.
2. Obtain and label a folder in which to collate and hold all the written documents
Obtain and label a ring binder into which all Quality Assurance documents can be filed in.
3. Obtain all current data sheets and manuals (if any)
Data Sheets must contain sufficient evidence to show that the performance criteria of all relevant clauses of the relevant Building Code will be met. Alternatively the information provided as the result of having a building product appraisal would be used. These need to be filed in the Building Product Quality Plan folder.
4. Obtain a copy of all relevant standards or criteria (if any)
Relevant Standards or Criteria must contain sufficient details to show what performances need to be monitored on a periodic basis to ensure the performance requirements of the Building Code will be met continuously. Where there are no current or relevant Standards, it may be sufficient to have key performance criteria written up so that the performance of materials or an assembly can be monitored from time to time. It is common for a professional organisation to write up such criteria to ensure all aspects of significant potential risk' have been taken into account. The purpose of having a quality assurance programme is not only to satisfy other parties that such a programme is in place, it is to assure the manufacturer / importer / distributor that the risks they are responsible for are being managed in a cost-effective manner.
5. Write up how the key performance criteria are to be monitored (or tested)
The amount of information required may be significant and may take some time to write up and finalise. For companies with limited resources, this process may need to be undertaken in stages, which can then be explained when the Quality Assurance Programme is audited. Alternatively where there are significant risks that need to be managed and or monitored as soon as a product is brought to the market, using a competent consultant can be a means of producing the desired documents. A folder containing a list of data sheets and or appraisal information is unlikely to be sufficient.
A range of documents needed to demonstrate continuous compliance may include -
- Check-list for assessing / testing incoming materials. This may include measurements of dimensions, density, surface blemishes, colour, or even a performance measure such as stiffness, or adhesion and so on. Some material may require sampling a small percentage of incoming material and being tested by a laboratory.
- Staff Training Document for Inwards Goods. This document would describe what needs to be done by the inwards goods staff for checking the materials as they arrive / are unpacked, and what they need to do in the event that the criteria is not met.
- Instructions that lead to compliance. Deviation from some of the steps is possible to accommodate, for example different materials or detailing provided that deviation is compensated for or otherwise justified. In many cases, Compliance Documents provide an excellent guidance mechanism for assessing the robustness of an alternative solution.
- Test Methods. A list of test methods may be needed to explain which performance requirements are being monitored and the means by which the performances are evaluated / tested. This is essential if the evaluation / testing is carried out by a third party laboratory.
- Test Reports. Test Reports are usually documents that are simply filed for reference. They may be supplied by an overseas manufacturer confirming conformance of each batch supplied, or, they may come from a local or in-house testing facility.
- Staff Training Document for Manufacturing. This document would describe what needs to be done by the manufacturing or assembly staff for ensuring that the correct materials have been used for the assembly / manufacture of the finished product, and cover what they need to do in the event that the criteria for assembly /manufacture is not met.
- Staff Training Document for Installation/Application.This document would describe what needs to be done by the manufacturer to ensure that the people who do the installation or application of the building product, do so as per the manufacturer's instructions as described in the 'technical manual' (often described as the installation manual). Ideally this document should describe what needs to be done on a 'task' by 'task' basis.
- If there are many tasks to a section or stage of the overall process, then the instructions should cover one section or stage at a time.
- Staff training can also reference training (especially practical training) that has been carried out by others, such as a BCITO.
- The document needs to identify who is the official from the manufacturing company that is responsible for the training of personnel
- Staff Training Progress Chart. This document is ideally shown as a chart of who has received which level of training, in order to identify stages of learning or training. The document can be used as a means of providing staff with an incentive to improve their skills and therefore improve their value (pay) to the company / organisation they are employed by.
- An Installer / Applicator Quality Assurance Document. This is a key document in the Quality assurance Programme. It details what steps the installer / applicator needs to take for each situation where all significant risks need to be assessed and managed (dealt with) on the job (site). It may well require the person to record key information and where necessary the taking of photos as proof of a situation that they need to deal with, or proof of how they dealt with a situation. Many such QA documents will employ the use of one or more checklists as a means of covering all potential issues. Some QA Programmes have a checklist that deals with issues that are generally the concern of the owner (or builder) and another for a specialist installer that did work that the person is working on. In other words there are three checklists described, one for each party to the work.
- Complaints & Repairs Document. This is a document which records any complaints or remedial work, related to a particular installer / applicator. The document should allow for writing up comments about each complaint or remedial job.
- Internal Review Document. This is a document which can be a checklist, that checks that the 'installer / applicator's' QA Programme is working. This document is commonly used by a representative from the manufacturer for ensuring the installer / applicator is complying with the requirements of their QA Document.
- External Audit Document. This is a document which can be a checklist, that checks that the 'installer / applicator's' QA Programme is working, by a third party. This document is commonly used by a representative from the appraisal company such as BEAL.
6. Put the Building Product Quality Plan into practice
In order to put a QA Programme into practice it is necessary to plan a) an education of all those involved, and b) providing those involved with the necessary kits / folders / forms to do their part, and c) train up those with special roles such a training or internal review.
7. Ensure the Building Product Quality Plan is REVIEWED at least once a Year
All of the above documents and measures for the management of potential risks are as good as the experience of those using them. It may well be that there is a need to simplify or tweak forms, check-lists or the like in order to ensure lack of ambiguity, misunderstanding or errors occurring. In any event there is a need for a regular review of such systems, which the external auditor will want to see notes about the review written up ( and filed in the QA folder.)
Note: A good QA Document Folder ought to contain a Contents page and on each page, a page number and version number, preferably with the date it was last updated. This assists in the filing and keeping a changing document system orderly and easy to use. An example of what a QA Programme set of documents should look like can be obtained from BEAL on request for a modest charge. For appraisal applicants there is no charge.