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.
• BS ISO 6707-1 (General terms);
• BS ISO 6707-2 (Contract and communication terms);
• BS ISO 6707-3 (Sustainability terms); and
• BS ISO 6707-4 (Facility management terms).
Within, terms include a definition as well as highlighting any synonyms or regional-specific terms. For example, this entry for column: