Welcome to our October E Bulletin

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it! Lem Bingley, Editor of Construction News is asking a question: “Should you work with a bad client to change their outlook, or keep your slate clean?” Andrew Brown, Director of CEWales tries to cut through the moral dilemma

Since Grenfell and Carillion Construction has been forced to face up to how it behaves. Rightly, our industry is judged not just on what it delivers, but the way that it is done. In short, as the Fun Boy Three sang, it is not what you do that counts, it is the way that you do it.

Lem Bingley's editorial opinion in Construction News (18th October) puts this into sharp focus. In a well written piece, he asks a very pertinent question: "Should you work with a bad client to change their outlook, or keep your slate clean?" It's complicated: but at the risk of sounding pious at CEWales we advocate sticking to the principles of Rethinking Construction. In practice this means calling out bad behaviours: anything from risky health and safety procedures to moral and ethical choices.

We cannot be obsessed by profit at any cost. Yes, the business model for much of the industry is almost at breaking point. Ed Evans, Director at CECA Wales said on social media a week or so ago that many civil engineering contractors are on their knees. But regardless of commercial imperatives construction must still focus on best practice and collaboration, which requires us all to be transparent and honest in how everyone up and down the construction supply chain operate.

There is an argument that says an organisation that has best practice and Rethinking Construction embedded in their culture can potentially convert the clients, suppliers and materials providers they are surrounded by. But at what risk? Where do you draw the line?

If you see bad HSEQ practices what do you do? If you abide by best practice you would call it out. You should stop the work safely and access the risks and point out the dangers and try to change the mindset of the individuals or teams involved. If a fatality happens where a client selected on lowest price, or perhaps where unrealistic tenders are pushed relentlessly, or maybe an unrealistic tender is passed down the supply chain, the industry should call them out. If you are asked to work to a price that is unreasonable and will encourage corners to be cut and risks to be taken you should push back. Say no.

Think about this some more. If you transgress H&S rules you end up in court on possible corporate murder charges. If you act fraudulently you can also end up in court. Too many people in the construction business think price fixing, financial one-upmanship and bad ethics is OK, maybe regarded as a macho badge of honour.

None of this fosters trust, collaboration and encourages best practice and an end product with any lasting value, let alone a legacy for future generations. You can try and change people's behaviours as you work with them, but if it is putting your own people and your reputation at risk then call it. Not every ethical question has an answer. But most do and the Constructing Excellence movement has a lot of the answers written down in a clear report with a list of recommendations. It's called Rethinking Construction.