By Chris Campbell, CEO, Consulting Engineers South Africa

The adage, ‘ignorance is bliss’ could not be more untrue when we look at the design and construction of homes. The value of a property, the aesthetics of a neighbourhood, and – most importantly – the safety of human beings is at stake when one chooses to be ignorant of building codes, standards, and professional procedures.

Chris Campbell . Credit by: CESA

Chris Campbell . Credit by: CESA

I say “chooses to be ignorant” because I believe there is no excuse for professional service providers and contractors to be unaware of their professional duties when advising customers. Whether building a new structure, or renovating an existing one, we have a duty of care to ensure that our structures and services are compliant with relevant standards and building codes. Failing to do so can result in expensive repercussions at best, and loss of life at worst.

South Africa’s National Building Regulations (NBR) are a set of functional guidelines for anybody building any type of structure. Published by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), SANS 10400-NBR (SA) should be considered scripture for anyone involved in property development. The codes cover everything from design to drainage to disposal to demolition, and they exist for good reason. Yet they are often ignored or seen as a daunting part of the building process. But the reality is, they could not be more important.

Compliance and continuity

Safety and wellbeing for residents lie at the heart of these codes. Informing customers of these codes and ensuring your work is compliant with these regulations lies at the heart of professionalism for anyone involved in the construction process. This is not just for the benefit of customers, but for the longevity and continuity of your business.

When you work on a building, not only are you leaving a legacy by (hopefully) helping create an asset of value for your customer and their neighbourhood, but you are also leaving behind a reputation which can help or hinder your future business success. Low prices may win you customers in the short term, but quality work and value for money are what will foster positive word of mouth and a reputation for success long into the future. In today’s tough economic landscape, can you afford to cut corners?


Competence and character 

Embarking on a construction or renovation project is a daunting exercise for customers – but it does not have to be. I believe service providers should go beyond just providing their service, and act more as consultants. We have the power and responsibility to educate customers on the ins and outs of the project, to inform them of choices made and reasons for them, and to give them peace of mind that their project will be safe and compliant.

As we move into a new year, I encourage everyone in the construction sector to make a renewed commitment to protecting lives and livelihoods. This goes beyond being competent at what you do and should speak to your character. While professional registration or an affiliation with a voluntary association may vouch for your capabilities, it is up to us as individuals to hold ourselves and each other accountable. The way you conduct yourself should be driven not just by a stamped affiliation, but by your moral conscience.

Capacity and culture

A 2010 study of Cape Town-based contractors found that non-compliance tends to be more significant amongst the unqualified and less experienced firms. For those smaller construction businesses which remain unregistered or unaffiliated, a culture of knowledge sharing, and accountability should be encouraged.

Additionally, the 2010 study raised concerns over the capacity of the local authorities to enforce building regulations. The lack of state capacity in South Africa has been widely reported in recent months, and we know that plans are underway to rectify this.

While the state focuses on professionalising and capacitating, the private sector should ensure it can assess compliance without a “watch dog” on guard. Surely, we have the integrity and collective understanding that adhering to standards is not just about getting a stamp of approval, but about maintaining lives and livelihoods.

“As we move into a new year, I encourage everyone in the construction sector to make a renewed commitment to protecting lives and livelihoods.”