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Construction Management and Economics

Call for Papers | Construction Defects, Danger, Disruption and Disputes: A systemic view of the construction industry post-Grenfell

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Construction Management and Economics

Construction Management and Economics publishes high-quality original research concerning the management and economics of activity in the construction industry.

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Guest editors

David Oswald, Lecturer, RMIT University, Australia 
Simon Smith, Senior Lecturer, University of Edinburgh, UK
Trivess Moore, Lecturer RMIT University, Australia
Léon olde Scholtenhuis, Assistant Professor, University of Twente, The Netherlands

‘there is a need for a radical rethink of the whole system and how it works.’ (Hackitt, 2018:5)


The UK Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 is a high-profile case of systemic failings that contributed to disaster.  Overnight, cladding on a London building caught fire, leading to a major fire incident with over 70 fatalities and 70 injuries.  Globally, there are significant issues with quality, compliance and safety within the construction industry.  This special issue aims to: critically examine and systemically reflect upon the lessons learnt, and developments required internationally to address these failings post-Grenfell.  Much of the attention to date has been on the most visible incidents such as Grenfell (UK), Torch Tower (Dubai) and Lacrosse (Australia).  While these focus on large residential buildings, there is an increasing need to understand the deeper and systemic issues within the construction industry as a whole (see Hackitt, 2018).


The flammable cladding may be one of the most immediate causes of safety issues; but within a holistic perspective, this is just one symptom of a larger systemic issue.  Hence failings are not only physical and technical, but also include institutional arrangements with policy and practice that have allowed a range of latent defects to exist or manifest.  Complexities in the management, legal arrangements, and industry fragmentation create dynamics that make safety and management of errors an intricate research topic and challenging task for the industry.  Following Grenfell, governments around the world have introduced new regulations on fire safety (e.g in Denmark and Finland), and financial resourcing for the removal of unsafe cladding (such as in Australia); but much more action will be required from all relevant stakeholders.


Identifying such defects and learning to avoid them in the future (see Hopkins et al., 2016) is beneficial for multiple stakeholders within the construction industry including, of course, the consumer/end-user.  Solutions to these issues of building quality, compliance defects and safety problems can come too late, be complex and can lead to long legal disputes.  For instance, the 2014 Lacrosse fire in Melbourne (Australia) underwent a five-year legal process, eventually resulting in the owners winning over A$5.7m in damages.  These outcomes have systematic consequences on the building industry, such as skyrocketing insurance premiums that have put building industry professionals out of business; and creating significant stress and financial impacts for the households effected.


This Special issue call: ‘Construction Defects, Danger, Disruption and Disputes’, aims to invite discussion on relevant issues related to the current construction climate through a systemic perspective which encompasses post-incident research but also trying to unpick the understanding of particular dynamics that cause cascading errors.  Papers are not limited to, but could discuss one or more of the following areas:


The manifestations of construction defects: Studies could explore how defects that affect building performance manifest within the construction industry.  Defects can cause risks to safety, sustainability and building quality, which can be significant for stakeholders and can encompass wider societal consequences (Koch and Schultz, 2019).  The regulation (or deregulation) of building codes and standards is one contributing cause that can provide understanding into how policy and practice are working, or not working, within the industry (Bosch and Philips, 2003).  Papers could investigate the building regulations, questioning their applicability, emergence and uptake, and susceptibility to risks when open to interpretation.


The manifestations of construction disruptions: Safety-critical disturbances on infrastructure projects such as intrusions, strikes or blasts of pipelines (Hayes, 2012), and cable breaks could be considered; as well as proactive investigation through resilience engineering perspectives (see Bergström et al., 2015).  Studies show that identifying the ‘weak spots’ within the complex and dynamic multi-layered organizational systems enables avoidance of errors, and development of, socio-technical solutions that prepare for future unwanted events.  Acknowledging that minor incidents can culminate into larger events, we also encourage papers that look at any factors that can contribute to the manifestation of smaller construction disruptions.  This issue also welcomes theoretical and/or empirical explorations of implications of smart construction methods (e.g. due to automation, digitalization, and robotics, and circularity ambitions; see e.g. Vahdatikhaki and Hammad, 2015).


Construction rework and disputes: The identification of buildings with flammable cladding has resulted in significant rework required.  The costs involved in removing flammable cladding in just the state of Victoria (Australia) could be as high as A$1.6m (see Lockrey and Moore, 2019).  Papers could investigate the role of the supply chain in construction rework (see Taggart et al., 2014); proactive approaches to defect management (see Lundkvist et al., 2014); quality and costs issues; and innovative ways to rework facades, perhaps with the use of technology.  Investigations could explore issues relating to legal practice and insolvency for construction organisations dispute in the claims process (Ajibade Ayodeji, 2006).  Also, how compensation claims are viewed within the industry (Oswald et al., 2018), how insurance premiums will be affected, the potential outcomes of consumer claims, and if there are clear resolutions when companies go insolvent (Ndekugri and Russell, 2005) are also possible areas of attention.  Studies on rework and disputes throughout the construction process are encouraged.


Learning from failure and innovative solutions: As well as understanding the systemic processes that lead to defects and disruption, papers that consider how to move forward and learn from these failures are welcomed.  Two possible facets for this could be the extraction of knowledge from systems that lead to the failure; or alternatively innovative solutions for the understanding and implementation of such knowledge gained.  Topics could include financial solutions for homeowners with defected properties, technological solutions to removing or rectifying defects, the use of innovative materials or solutions for construction policies.  As well as post-incident exploration, unexpected challenges could also be investigated; considering cladding was arguably first thought to be a positive innovation.  Studies on learning and solutions for current problems are encouraged.

Important dates
Full paper submissions open: November 2019
Extended abstract submission deadline*: until 31st January 2020
Full paper submission deadline: 1 August 2020
Publication of the Special Issue: Planned for June 2021 (accepted issues will appear online ahead of publication)

*Extended abstracts are not essential but encouraged, as this will provide an opportunity for authors to seek feedback from the guest editors and to receive confidence that the paper proposal is within the scope of this call. Abstracts should be no more than 1,000 words in length including references, and should clearly state the research rationale and purpose/aim, the research problem or theoretical question being addressed, the research methods, and an indication of the key findings.

Informal queries regarding this special issue can be directed to Dr. David Oswald, [email protected].  For more general queries about Construction Management and Economics, please write to Prof. Paul W Chan, [email protected].

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Ajibade Ayodeji, A. (2006) The relationship between distribution of control, fairness and potential for dispute in the claims handling process, Construction Management and Economics, 24(1), 45-54.

Bergström, J., van Winsen, R. and Henriqson, E. (2015) On the rationale of resilience in the domain of safety: A literature review, Reliability Engineering and System Safety, 141, 131-141.

Bosch, G. and Philips, P. (2003) Building Chaos: An international comparison of deregulation in the construction industry, Routledge: London.

Hackitt, J. (2018) Building a safer Future, Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Final report, Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government by Command of Her Majesty.

Hayes, J. (2012) Use of safety barriers in operational safety decision making, Safety Science, 50(3), 424-432.

Hopkins, T., Lu, S., Rogers, P. and Sexton, M. (2016) Detecting defects in the UK new-build housing sector: a learning perspective, Construction Management and Economics, 34(1), 35-45.

Koch, C. and Schultz, C. (2019) The production of defects in construction – an agency dissonance, Construction Management and Economics, 37(9), 499-512.

Lockrey, S. and Moore, T. (2019) Flammable cladding costs could approach billions for building owners if authorities dither, The Conversation, Published 06/06/2019, Accessed 04/09/2019, available at: https://www.theconversation.com/flammable-cladding-costs-could-approach-billions-for-building-owners-if-authorities-dither-118121.

Lundkvist, R., Henrik Meiling, J. and Sandberg, M. (2014) A proactive plan-do-check-act approach to defect management based on a Swedish construction project, Construction Management and Economics, 32(11), 1051-1065.

Ndekugri, I. and Russell, V. (2005) Insolvency and resolution of construction contract disputes by adjudication in the UK construction industry, Construction Management and Economics, 23(4), 399-408.

Oswald, D., Sherratt, F., Smith, S. and Dainty, A. (2018) An exploration into the implications of the ‘compensation culture’ on construction safety, Safety Science, 109, 294-302.

Taggart, M., Koskela, L. and Rooke, J. (2014) The role of the supply chain in the elimination and reduction of construction rework and defects: an action research approach, Construction Management and Economics, 32(7-8), 829-842.

Vahdatikhaki, F. and Hammad, A. (2015) Dynamic equipment workspace generation for improving earthwork safety using real-time location system, Advanced Engineering Informatics, 29(3), 459-471.