The built environment sector is one of the largest in the UK economy; employing over 3 million people. With a diverse range of skills, education, experiences, and behaviours it is no wonder that different parts of the built environment may use different terms to describe the same concepts. Some of these may be:
Spelling variations (such as "kerb" and "curb");
Synonyms (such as "dealwood" and "softwood");
Homographs (such as the term "Catwalk" which means both "Walkway" and "Gangway");
Colloquialisms (such as "Sparky" for an electrician); or
Abbreviations (such as "HVAC" for heating, ventilation and air conditioning)
As such, the built environment can be seen as being divided by a common language. Such a division can result in confusion and miscommunication. Research by the Get it Right Initiative shows that some of the most significant root causes for errors include poorly communicated design information and ineffective communication between team members. It stands to reason that communication would be negatively affected by using unfamiliar terms.
For example, if a flood defence project had team members which each used "dyke", "dike", "levee" and "flood bank" to describe the same embankment, it may make communications between team members more difficult.
Or equally, the inconsistent use of terminology could lead to a misunderstanding on site. For example, if an engineer’s specification asked for "ties", a US contractor may interpret this as a railway sleeper, while a UK contractor may interpret this as a wall tie.
Misunderstanding such as these could result in the wrong materials or products being ordered, works being undertaken in the wrong location, or members of a project team working on false assumptions which will require rework in the future; all potentially resulting in time and cost implications.
To help mitigate these misunderstandings and ambiguities, BSI maintains a series of standards dedicated to built environment vocabulary, the ISO 6707 series.
Within, terms include a definition as well as highlighting any synonyms or regional-specific terms. For example, this entry for column:
188.8.131.52 column pillar, GB structural member of slender form, usually vertical, that transmits to its base the forces, primarily in compression, that are applied to it.
Here we can see the British synonym "pillar" has also been included. Through the inclusion of both a term and a definition, it is clear when something could be considered a column or not. By citing the BS ISO 6707 series within technical documentation, built environment professionals can ensure that the terms they use have clear definitions to improve communication and reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings.
As society continues to embrace digital technologies, the world has never felt as small as it does now. As such, organizations within the built environment are more likely than ever to work within international teams. Because of this, the need to communicate consistently has never been more prevalent. The BS ISO 6707 series provides an internationally agreed set of terms and definitions which, if adopted across a project team, could help mitigate any miscommunication.
Dan Rossiter, Head of Built Environment Sector at BSI
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