Buildings now safe as houses
AS a result of pressure from the Hong Kong Housing Authority in 1990, about 100 companies in Hong Kong's construction industry have acquired ISO certification.
In 1988, the construction branch of the Housing Authority realised it was drowning in a mass of paper circulars, memorandums and instructions that were generally ignored because there were so many of them.
The management realised it needed to introduce a formal set of procedures. The Industry Department was having a quality drive, and it was logical for the Housing Authority to take its need one step further and apply for ISO 9001 certification.
The Housing Authority's construction branch, which was the biggest single employer of the construction industry in Hong Kong, also decided then to set up its own approved list for which contractors would have to qualify.
In this case, the qualification that would be required was ISO 9000 certification.
Last year, when the construction branch was awarded its certification, 25 construction companies also reached the target. The number of certified companies has continued to grow.
The requirement for quality extended beyond the main contractor in each project: under ISO 9001 main contractors must assess nominated subcontractors; many have since obtained certification.
The same rigorous control is being placed on maintenance contracts.
Although the customer - the general public - could not specify that the product - the public housing - could only be provided by an ISO 9000 certified company, people were beginning to expect higher standards, especially with rising home ownership on some estates.
It was, therefore, logical that quality systems should be introduced as far down the construction chain as possible.
With a staff of more than 3,000, the construction department claims to be the first professional office of its size to have been given ISO 9000 certification.
An audit of the average-size Hong Kong company takes three to four days, but the construction department's pre-assessment and final audit each took more than three weeks.
It will still be about a year before the ISO achievement will be reflected in the buildings, because of the long time it takes from planning to occupation of a block of flats.