A dramatic reversal of fortunes saw confidence in the future of construction workload plunge in the second quarter of this year to the lowest level ever recorded by the chartered surveyors body RICS.

The figures suggest that more than 11 years of almost uninterrupted growth has come to a shuddering halt, with a third of firms polled saying that workload fell in the second quarter of this year, compared with just 14% saying workload increased. Recession for construction now looks almost inevitable.

There also appears to be few places to shelter from the storm, with workload in all regions and all sectors being bashed as the subprime squall first felt in the US develops into a financial and economic tornado.

This is by far the most disturbing survey yet to come from within the construction industry and, as a lead indicator of activity on the ground, points to rapidly worsening construction output in the months ahead.

More disturbing still is that expectations of future workload reversed sharply, with a balance of -15% of surveyors saying they expect less work in the next 12 months compared with a healthy balance just three months ago of 30% saying they expected workload to expand.

RICS puts the dramatic reversal of fortune down to the credit crunch, the effects of which first hit housing and now appears to be spreading rapidly through out all construction work.

Surveyors' expectations of employment turned negative in the second quarter, having been strongly positive in previous surveys. The proportion of surveyors finding it difficult to recruit skilled labour has plummeted to the lowest level since 1996.

And after turning negative in the first quarter of the year, there has been a big increase in the proportion of firms that now expect profit margins to fall.

Faced with all this, the big question is how will firms react. The answer to that may well determine how construction emerges from what now appears to be a certain recession.

The early signals already look worrying with hardpressed house builders holding back payments, looking to negotiate a drop in final settlements and calling on suppliers to cut their prices.

Equally as disturbing are the results of the snap web poll recently undertaken by Contract Journal. It asks: "Are you planning to work in new sectors following the fall-out from the credit crunch?"

Two thirds said "yes". This begs the question if you weren't doing it before why do it now when the competition will be even harder.

For me this echoes the late 1980s and early 1990s when panic spread rapidly and firms financially cut each other's and indeed their own throats as they scrabbled to win work, often at a guaranteed loss.

And as I have said in earlier posts - and will no doubt continue to say - there are good reasons why the construction fraternity can emerge from a recession better this time around than it has in the past. But as an industry it must forget its nasty habits and show calm and true management quality.