Many countries have classification systems for construction work. These are reviewed regularly, occasionally resulting in a radical reclassification – the February ICIS Newsletter described new systems for North America, Australia and Germany, for example ( externallink). Publication of new classification systems is a common reason for republication of national master specification systems – ARCOM’s MasterSpec (USA) and CISA’s NATSPEC (Australia) have both been republished recently for this reason.

In the UK, the Common Arrangement of Work Sections (CAWS) was first published in 1987. NBS was republished at the same time, changing to CAWS from a CI/SfB structure. NBS has been maintained and extended since then (at the time of writing this article we were working on Update 47), but not republished. CAWS has been updated too, both by CPIC ( externallink) in 1997, and by NBS unilaterally. The biggest change we have made is to the engineering services side of CAWS (see NBS Journal 03) – this has been lodged with CPIC as an official proposal for revision.

A group sections

We believe that the A group (Preliminaries/General) and the fabric side of CAWS are also in need of a restructure. Let’s look at the A group first. Topics covered here include:

  • contract completions (e.g. names of the parties, insurance options selected, contract sum);
  • tendering rules (e.g. form of tender, time for submittal);
  • client’s preliminaries (e.g. use of site services, accommodation for Clerk of Works); and
  • general technical requirements (e.g. rules for submittals and substitutions).

The first two should be discarded once the contract has been signed and commenced. The second two address different audiences – the contractor on the one hand, and the subcontractors

On the other. The main issue here is the disassembly of this content to ensure, for example, that subcontractors see what they need to see. Unfortunately these topics are mixed together in many A group sections, making disassembly next to impossible. This has been raised recently in discussion with the Wren group of practices, with local practice FaulknerBrowns, and at NBS Discover events held across the country.

A clean split of the content across these four categories is what’s needed.

Fabric work sections

On the fabric side, there are several factors driving the need to restructure CAWS:

  • New, and not-so-new, technology: Though less of a problem than it was for engineering services, this issue still arises. For example, there are no homes in CAWS for ETFE foil roofs, or rammed earth, adobe or straw bale walling.
  • Package contracting: Work package contracting may require broad-scope CAWS work sections to be split, as may domestic subcontracting. MasterSpec (USA) has 23 doors sections, for example, while CAWS has just the one! It is more helpful if NBS (and hence CAWS) splits the work sections, rather than leaving it to project specifiers and contractors every time.
  • Flexibility: Widespread use of adjacent numbers in CAWS means that, in a project specification, a work section such as M50 cannot be split into five or more contiguous sections, which might be needed for packaging. This can be solved by leaving gaps in the numbering and/or splitting such sections in advance.
  • Design-build procurement: Changing NBS to enable documentation for design-build is a long-standing request from subscribers. The engineering services side of CAWS works well for this method of procurement, with all groups of work sections (R, S, T, U, V, W, X) organized by system/element, and homes for sections describing all conceivable (at the moment) systems. This structure allows the full spectrum of contractor-design to be addressed in a controlled consistent manner, on a pick-and-mix basis. On the fabric side, this option is not available. Some groups are elemental (e.g. H) and some are not (e.g. E), and there are homes for very few systems to be described generally (e.g. in outline or performance terms), even obvious ones such as substructure, framing, flooring, walling and roofing (though there are homes for particular technical solutions). In essence, CAWS for fabric reflects the type of procurement that was conventional in 1987, and needs to move with the times. Users: Some elements are of interest to different disciplines. Examples include painting, signage and access systems, of interest to architects, services engineers, and landscape architects, and to three different sets of subcontractors. But there is nowhere in CAWS for three versions of a painting work section, for example. NBS has had to invent sections to deal with this.
  • Consistency: There is no good reason for the fabric side of the classification system to follow different principles to the engineering services side, and there is every reason why it should. The fabric side is not even internally consistent, with some common sections in the Z group, and others not (e.g. the concrete sections, which are common to many elements). Consistency is king!
  • Estimating: Cost data is disseminated in elemental form, as in the BCIS Standard Form of Cost Analysis ( externallink). Likewise, SMM6 was elemental. Because SMM7 is aligned to CAWS, QSs need to map between an elemental and CAWS structure. We can simplify this by giving CAWS an overarching elemental structure. This would also help with mapping between CAWS and the Uniclass elements table, currently under review through CPIC. At present, this is simple on the engineering services side, but not for fabric.
  • Facility management: We have had requests for content dealing with FM contracts, including the FM component of BOOT contracts. This would include ‘soft’ FM services, such as catering and reprographics, but there is no home for this sort of thing in CAWS, which would therefore need to be extended.

NBS is developing firm proposals for a reorganization of CAWS, to address these and other issues. Your comments would be appreciated (send to Change is likely to be radical and hence require republication of NBS Building (which opens up other possibilities for us). After 20 years, it could be argued that this is long overdue!