Post-Grenfell Review Heading In The Right Direction

Posted in The Industry on December 28, 2017


The industry should welcome the Hackitt Review's call for culture change and performance-based regulations.

The construction industry will be challenged to deliver what it promises if the changes proposed by the review of the Building Regulations in the wake of the Grenfell fire tragedy come into force.

In its interim report published just before Christmas, the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt made it clear that the current regulatory framework for buildings is not fit for purpose. It identified that there needs to be a complete change of culture; improved ways of establishing the competence of people appointed to carry out work in buildings; and more collective responsibility for ensuring compliance with regulations.

Most importantly, however, the Review wants the industry to be subject to a new type of 'output-based' regulation designed to make sure that buildings work well throughout their complete lifecycle. This means that it will no longer be about what you promise to deliver, but what you actually deliver that counts and on which compliance will be judged. At the launch of the report, Dame Judith also made an important point that the industry should get on with making necessary improvements – particularly in the area of skills and competence – and not wait for the government to tell it what to do. We are (or should be) the experts after all; so it is not unreasonable to expect us to be able to decide how best we can meet new requirements.

Competent

"I said in the report there is a lack of competence throughout the system and that is in all areas," said Dame Judith. "In the construction industry, whilst there are clearly many competent people, the system for identifying and differentiating those who are competent from those who are not is ineffective."

This is an invitation for the building services sector to beef up and promote existing competent person schemes that can be used as third party assessed evidence of contractors' ability and provide reassurance to clients.

Rather than calling for specific bans on certain types of combustible materials and other measures, like fitting fire sprinklers throughout high rise buildings, which would make good political headlines, the Hackitt Review is focused on overhauling the delivery process as a whole. This has to be the right approach.

If you put a more robust system in place that challenges project teams to deliver performance-based solutions then you are more likely to get the right product choices and technical decisions. You will also encourage innovation while creating a procurement process that is more fit for purpose and that has a chance of ensuring buildings are correctly designed for long-term performance.

The 'tick box' approach to regulations we have now has created a 'compliance culture' that does not make buildings safer – instead it means people are able to carry out work for the cheapest price safe in the knowledge that there will be little follow-up and scrutiny of their work post-installation. That is not the recipe for quality or safe buildings.

As part of the culture change Dame Judith wants to see, people will need to stop doing work for the "least cost" and change their mind-set so that buildings remain safe and fit for purpose throughout their operating life. She rightly criticised the complexity of the approved guidance documents used to support the regulations. They allow for too much wriggle room and loose interpretation; and the silo thinking behind them has made things complicated and difficult to enforce. Making the system much simpler so it would "guide people to the right answer, rather than presenting them with all that information" will be a key focus of the next stage of the Review.

New build and refurbishment projects regularly start too quickly. Often before the whole design has been completed and before building control has signed it off. This makes it hard to get the whole team working towards a shared vision of the final project, which means they are not focused on the whole life performance of the building.

Dame Judith pointed out that it was important to get the design right at the outset, but also to have systems in place that made sure any changes to the building did not compromise that design and so undermine performance and safety.

The one concern raised by the Review's interim report is that it appears to be moving towards a two-stage process where high rise and 'complex' buildings are held to a higher set of standards than other types of building.

With hundreds of thousands of new homes to be built in the next decade, it is important that ALL types of construction project meet higher quality, safety and performance standards for the well-being of clients and occupants. Hopefully, that principle will be acknowledged by Dame Judith and her committee and will be reflected when they publish their final report in the spring.


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