Could architect’s failure have been averted with a risk register?

13 February 2013 | By Catherine Wheatcroft

We keep reading headlines in the press that state huge failings and errors in projects, that result in press interest at the least or prosecution and fines in many cases. This is happening across many sectors on multi million pound contracts, with organisations that ‘should know better’.

Why are we reading about these failures? Is project contracted industry failing the most basic of procedures – risk registers and a well-documented and thought out charter at the start of their projects?

A case in point is a recent report of an architect’s practice that has been prosecuted because they failed to inform contractors about the presence of asbestos insulation board in a Rugby Club in Mid Wales. The rugby club did commission an asbestos survey and this was presented to the architects. But it appears that the architects failed to show the survey to the builders working on-site.

It could be argued that this is a simple lack of communication between architect and contractors, or a failing in some internal process. But you would have thought that an architects practice would not fail in such a catastrophic way. You would be forgiven for thinking that such a business would be red alerted straight away to an asbestos report and have bombproof procedures in place for this to be passed to the contracting project teams.

Visit the Health and Safety Executive website and you will find pages and pages of press releases documenting failings in health and safety or lack of working procedures. We are not talking about the small time contractors either, there are documented cases of construction, engineering and manufacturing giants who have failed and felt the repercussions. Whilst there is the ‘get out jail card’ of ‘accidents happen’, for time-honoured professionals who specialise in such projects, it seems strange that the basics are still causing failings.

Are projects large and small starting without the proper due diligence in place? Could these companies be starting on projects without following the well-documented guidance from the likes of APM (Association of Project Management) and PRINCE2 approaches?

Is there a need for these companies to pay more attention to creating a risk register to document the risks of the project, their cause and impact? A risk register should, if done properly, look at existing controls in place for risks, past risks from similar projects, the likelihood of the risk happening with the existing controls already in place, rate and score risks and scope out the response should the risk actually occur. The leader or sponsor of the risk register would then automatically ensure that the outputs of the report were filtered to all stakeholders.

It might be worth these businesses investing more time at the start of the project to review such risks. If thoroughly discussed and documented, with all project managers (including contractor managers) involved, it is just then a matter of communicating the register to all affected parties. It sounds simple and obvious enough, but something not getting enough attention according to the many reports to be read.