Author: Tom Parlon, director general, Construction Industry Federation Last July, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), together with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, launched a new register for the construction industry. The Construction Industry Register Ireland (CIRI) will have massive implications for the future of construction in this country and will impact on all those involved in construction activity – including engineers. The register sets out to separate out competent, experienced construction companies, builders and sole traders from the rest. All those who wish to be listed on the register have to meet a series of standards. That means that any engineers or other professionals looking to select a building company finally have a means of separating out compliant construction companies from those who may have tarnished the reputation of the industry. It may come as a surprise but before the advent of CIRI, there was no means of regulating the construction sector. There has been no equivalent of the Register of Engineers for builders and contractors – the result being anyone can set themselves up as a builder or construction company, even if they have never spent a day onsite. Effectively, all they needed was a business card and a van and they could begin trading. Without prior knowledge of the company or people involved, when it came to selecting a contractor or specialist, people were effectively rolling the dice and hoping for the best. Unfortunately, this led to some very poor quality building projects, many of which could have failed building regulatory requirements. CIRI sets out to get rid of the pot luck problem. To get on CIRI, all applicants must demonstrate they are competent and experienced. They must also meet the following criteria:

  • Submit details of completed projects to demonstrate experience and competent;
  • Adhere to an industry Code of the Ethics and Obligations;
  • Must be tax compliant;
  • Commit to undertaking continuous professional development (CPD);
  • Comply with health and safety regulations relating to the construction industry;
  • Show they have the relevant insurance policies in place;
  • Obey all the latest building standards and regulations;
  • Attend a CIRI induction course.
Of course, since the updated building regulations took effect last March, hiring a 'competent' construction company, builder or contractor has even greater significance for construction professionals involved in the industry. Any engineers who are acting as the assigned certifier on a project must ensure the work is being carried out by a 'competent' builder.

Ensuring competency and statutory issues

Tom Parlon 2012 - 1CIRI offers a means of finding 'competent' builders and construction companies. Under the Department of Environment's Code of Practice for Inspecting and Certifying Buildings and Works, in accordance with the building regulations, any builder listed on the register is considered as being 'competent' to undertake works under his or her registered profile. This will be further enhanced when CIRI is placed on a statutory footing next year. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has confirmed that the Heads of Bill should be published before the end of the year, before passing through the Oireachtas in 2015. Further down the line, it is also likely to have implications when it comes to tendering and pre qualification. The independent Construction Industry Registration Board determines all applications for inclusion on the register. The board consists of a chair (appointed following consultation with the Minister for the Environment) and a total of ten members comprising those nominated by Government departments and agencies, as well as three members who are practising building contractors. CIRI also covers more than just builders. Every form of construction company is classified under the register. That includes civil engineering contractors. Again, this provides a means for competent, experienced civil engineering companies to distinguish themselves. Other disciplines listed on CIRI include builders and contractors who specialise in extension and refurbishment projects, mechanical and electrical contractors as well as a list of specialist contractors covering everything from plastering, plumbing, masonry, roofing, piling, demolition, masonry, glazing, carpentry, flooring, tiling, scaffolding, joinery, radon protection, fire safety, waste water treatment and much more. Basically, if it is considered a type of construction service, then CIRI covers it. A total of 39 categories are listed and more distinctions may be added if the need arises. The other benefit to accessing CIRI is that it is free. There is absolutely no charge for any engineer, construction professional or member of the public to look up who is on the register. As well as searching by discipline, they can check what construction companies or specialists are working in any particular county – making it easier to find someone local with which to work. Already over 250 companies are listed on CIRI and another 700 have begun the application process. Given that the register is only up and running, this highlights the interest in the register throughout the construction industry. The CIF estimates that interest will grow considerably as awareness of the register spreads and the register is placed on a statutory footing.

Keeping standards up

Meeting standards is not just required to join CIRI, it is also a vital element of staying on the register. All those on CIRI must reapply on an annual basis if they wish to stay listed. Part of that renewal process will be a requirement to demonstrate compliance with the continuous professional development (CPD) requirement. This is important as the onus on CPD will help foster improved standards throughout the construction industry as more companies upskill and grow their knowledge base. There is also a complaints process, so in the event of anyone having a problem with a company listed on CIRI not fulfilling the register requirements, there is a means for them to do something about it. Again, this is something that is new to the industry and only exists through CIRI. Quite simply, CIRI has been set up to promote the work of competent, experienced construction companies, builders and sole traders. There are some fantastic companies operating in the Irish construction sector but unfortunately they were lumped in with the types of companies that have tarnished the reputation of the entire industry. Construction leaders throughout the sector have wanted to see a registration scheme like this set up for several years now. There has been a wide concern that those who carry out good work were being banded together with those who have cut corners. Those in the construction industry who take pride in their projects do not like seeing the reputation of the entire industry tarred. CIRI provides a means for separating these competent companies from the rest. Construction can be a complicated process. Everyone involved with construction activity understands that there are many moveable factors which can all impact on how the project is handled. The materials used, the geology of the site, the intricacy of the plans – all of these can make a significant difference. The human factor is another major element. We all know that human error is a fact of life; however, on a construction project, those errors need to be kept to a minimum. You need to be working with people who are competent, experienced and who generally know what they are doing. That is what CIRI provides. At the launch of CIRI, the then Minister for Environment, Phil Hogan TD said he has long believed there was a need to bring regulation to the construction industry. That regulation has finally arrived in the form of CIRI. It offers engineers, as well as the wider public, a free and simple means of selecting construction companies and builders. It is a resource that we hope will be widely embraced by engineers and recognised as being major progress in improving standards in the Irish construction industry.