STA Assure – stakeholder-driven quality assurance

What can the industry do to address issues of quality assurance and provide greater confidence in the use of structural timber technologies? Trevor Richards, Director of Cogent Consulting, sees substantial merit in independent third-party assessments.

As assessors and accreditation advisors, our expert consultants at Cogent have many years of engagement with industry bodies that rightly decree that a product or service is fit for purpose and we understand the needs of these organisations.  

Underpinning credentials and upholding credibility
Back in 2016 Cogent Consulting started working with the Structural Timber Association (STA) to develop a Membership and Quality Standards Scheme. STA Assure was launched early the next year and the initial accreditation scheme was based on an online self-assessment declaration process. 

With Gold, Silver and Bronze levels of Accreditation, the STA Assure quality and safety initiative started to gain traction and commendations from across the construction sector – including clients, contractors and warranty providers. To add further standing and credibility to this initiative at the beginning of 2018, STA Assure has become a mandatory independently audited scheme for all STA members classified as Structural Timber Building System Suppliers (STBSS) - phasing out the self-declaration procedure via the website.  

The process of independent audits further underpins the credentials and standing of the STA’s STBSS members and determine the competency/level of accreditation for the STA Assure scheme. It is fair to say that the STA has experienced some low-levels of resistance to the change in the audit procedure. However, these audits have been developed to assist STA members adopt ‘best practise principles’ and once they meet and get involved with the audit team – the STBSS members find the process extremely beneficial to their business, whilst providing a baseline benchmark on competency and ensuring an industry-wide approach to methods of assuring performance.

The Value of Independent Assessments 
Carried out by skilled assessors from Cogent Consulting, the audit process is designed to be supportive and informative. Not only does the independent audit validate the design, manufacturing/product realisation processes which offers reassurances to customers, but the in-depth process is particularly beneficial to SME STBSS members by highlighting areas of improvement and efficiency. Many of these members may have limited funds to undertake costly third-party accreditations and now the Cogent team can assess if these companies carry out the same processes as those who can afford such accreditations.  STBSS member scope of activity and competency is then designated under the STA Assure Gold, Silver, Bronze levels.

Optimising Quality Assurance 
Given the robustness and independence of the assessment process, STA Assure has now received formal recognition for those achieving Gold and Silver status, from six of the industry’s leading structural warranty and building control bodies - LABC Warranty, Premier Guarantee, Protek Warranty, Build-Zone Warranty, Self-Build Zone Warranty and CRL.
STA Assure offers reassurances to the construction community and self builders, that STA STBSS members meet or even exceed current legislation, regulatory requirements and quality standards in respect of the various structural timber systems on offer. Focusing on the levels of in-house quality procedures, management systems and product performance standards, as well as external accreditations – the STA Assure assessment includes a bespoke Site Safe audit – validating CDM compliance and Health & Safety Executive requirements for the protection and regisration of timber structures during construction. This audit ensures that design and production processes and quality controls are in line with the customer’s expectations for consistent, high levels of quality with continuous improvement at the heart of the manufacturer’s culture. 

Mandatory Requirement
Offsite technology is hailed as the solution to resolving some of the most challenging problems facing the construction industry, most notably the shortfall in housing supply, and the offsite manufacturing sector is witnessing unprecedented demand for the offsite solutions on offer, especially structural timber technology. It is therefore crucially important to ensure that quality and safety standards, underpinned by robust procedures, are of paramount importance to those operating in the structural timber technology sector. 
To underpin the value of the processes outlined above, and to continue to raise the bar for the industry, it is now mandatory for STA Structural Timber Building System Supplier (STBSS) members to:  
 Undergo the audit for the STA Assure Membership and Quality Standards Scheme 
 Operate Site Safe procedures to ensure timber construction is both safe and sustainable
 Receive regular updates on the latest building regulations and legislation
 Fully support sustainable construction and quality standards 

It is important to note that it is not always feasible, possible or necessary for an STA member to achieve a Gold level accreditation. Specific quality requirements differ for each type of member, the scope of product and service on offer and customer activity depending on the nature of a company’s business; therefore, a Bronze or Silver member may be the most appropriate company for the requirements of a particular project. Full details of the STA Assure accreditation levels can be found on the STA website: www.structuraltimber.co.uk 
By providing transparency, credibility and accountability, the STA with the support of Cogent Consulting - safeguard the interests of end users, enabling them to partner with reputable member companies that will harness the multitude of inherent benefits that structural timber offers.  STA Assure creates a clear distinction in the expected performance levels of member and non-members within the structural timber arena.

Cogent Consulting
Providing an exceptional range of proven assessment, accreditation, design, construction, engineering, project management and supply-chain management skills. Cogent is able to draw on a wide base of in-house professional expertise, and long-established network of specialists, to provide tailored solutions to meet the exacting needs of the structural timber sector, based on a close, first-hand understanding of the offsite landscape.
For more information go to: www.cogent-consulting.co.uk

Image Credit: CCG

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