The Role of the Clerk of Works

Blog Author: Rachel Morris – CEO, Institute of Clerks of Works & Construction Inspectorate

The Institute of Clerks of Works and Construction Inspectorate (ICWCI) defines the role of the Clerk of Works as:

“A person whose duty is to superintend the construction and maintenance of buildings, or other works for the purpose of ensuring proper use of labour and materials.”

Clients (including employers, local authorities, housing associations etc) have the challenge of ensuring that their construction projects achieve value for money and are completed to a high quality in terms of workmanship, materials, construction standards and building regulation statutory compliance.

Let us first consider recent history…. prior to the mid-1990’s most local authorities employed teams of Clerks of Works that sat under the Architects and Engineering Department. Under that regime, the Clerk of Works role was very much valued, understood and respected.

However, as the country hit the recession of the 90’s, it brought cut backs, rationalisation and compulsory competitive tendering. This resulted in out-sourcing of professional services to facilities management companies; and although Clerk of Works services were not immediately affected, over time is has become apparent that as local authority Clerks of Works have retired, they have too often not been replaced.

Forms of contract have changed over the years and the general consensus of the ICWCI is that Design and Build contracts have diluted the Clerk of Works role. Many Clients consider it a saving if the Contractor is carrying the risk, particularly if they do not factor in the cost of a Clerk of Works or understand the benefits of having a Clerk of Works as part of the design team.

In the case of the Joint Contract Tribunal (JCT) standard or traditional form contract, the Architect is the lead and the Clerk of Works is named and reasonably empowered.

The financial challenges today that the management companies are tied into often result in they themselves being replaced and unfortunately those all too important resources (including Clerks of Works) are regularly not factored in or are only appointed for occasional site visits or to provide part-time services.

The benefits of employing Clerks of Works today:

Independent third party inspection helps to protect the Clients interests throughout the construction process. When employing/appointing a Clerk of Works or Construction Inspector, the Client will not only benefit in term of experience; they will also have the reassurance that their interests are being safeguarded.

Clerks of Works will have the ability to: anticipate; interpret; inspect; record; report; advise and guide; help reduce risk; provide guidance on health and safety matters; assist in getting it right first time! Extending on this they will have:

  • A good general understanding of the specific construction inspection process (in particular around the inspection of materials and workmanship)
  • An understanding of the obligations of all parties (requirements and boundaries)
  • Foresight; i.e. identification of issues/ potential issues and the ability to suggest alternative methods or mitigation techniques
  • A focus on quality; promoting right first time initiatives, reducing rework and double handling
  • They are impartial, with a fair, considered and independent approach to ensuring value for money for the Client
  • They have an awareness of acceptable standards, benchmarking and identifying non-conformance
  • The ability to produce concise recordings of their findings
  • They will have a professional opinion and make recommendations to alternative approaches and corrective actions
  • Knowledge of construction materials and components, including their use, limitations and possible alternatives
  • An understanding and knowledge of the practical and legal aspects of health and safety.

When a Clerk of Works is appointed, there are a number of factors that he/she can focus on; these will include:

Compliance – buildings need to be inspected for safety and structural integrity to ensure that they conform to statutory regulations and laws.

Workmanship – needs to be monitored and inspected at regular intervals to minimise problems, defects and rework.

Materials – should be inspected to ensure that they are correct and of a suitable, appropriate quality to fit their purpose.

Defects – can be minimised and resolved when regular thorough inspection is factored into the construction process.

Recommendations – Clerks of Works can make recommendations to the Client throughout the construction process.

Note: All of the above will depend on what basis the individual is contractually employed.

When should a Clerk of Works be appointed?

The earlier the better! Starting pre-construction and throughout each stage of construction thereon is recommended. It is usual for a Clerk of Works to be employed as a representative of the  employer/Client, typically under the direction of the Architect, Engineer or Project Manager.

Employing a Clerk of Works is not a mandatory requirement; it is however highly recommended. As the professional body for Clerks of Works and Construction Inspectors we welcome the ear of Government on this very subject. Our perspective has previously been presented to the inquiry into the quality of new build housing; shared with the independent inquiry into the Edinburgh Schools, and we have also had representation in the Construction Industry Council series of workshops following the Grenfell Tower disaster. We are now seeking assistance regarding funding for future Clerk of Works training. If Clerks of Works were a mandatory requirement on every construction project and resourced appropriately more Clients will benefit and appreciate the important value of their presence!

“The Cost of a Clerk of Works per annum is cheaper than a day in court!” Quote from Tony Bingham Arbitrator, Adjudicator, Mediator and Barrister.

For further information about Clerks of Works, please contact ICWCI on 01733 405160.