As the Building Safety Bill comes into effect, the Fire Sector Federation reports on the importance of collaboration and competence
This year, in what will be the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Building Safety Bill is likely to gain Royal Assent and become law. Described by the government as the biggest change to building safety in a generation, the reforms are designed to implement recommendations from the Hackitt Report emerging from the ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry to prevent any repeat catastrophe.
Undoubtedly not only will it take until 2024 for all of the elements to come into force, but the overall scale of change required is also a tremendous challenge, particularly for such a complex and fragmented sector as construction. So, it may take years more to be fully effective.
This means two of the fire Sector Federation’s four ‘c’s are of great importance. Collaboration and competence are fundamental to the sector’s ability to achieve success. They have to be not just embraced but embedded in the new reforms if we are to achieve the safe built environment that every citizen can have confidence in.
Looking at collaboration we have seen some excellent examples in construction, but there still remains an abiding view with many in the industry that there has not been anything like enough change in the last four years. Certainly there is awareness of the process and we are starting to see examples, like building clients driving out inertia by giving attention to procurement and supply chains. The design and build model is shifting further from the old value engineering system we knew towards instilling a collaborative culture across the multidisciplinary teams that deliver projects.
This is a challenge for any highly competitive market where the move away from lowest bid wins to a value-oriented procurement approach that can be undercut by someone who does not want to play by the same rules is seen as risky. Many of the biggest players in construction recognise and advocate a collaborative approach as a tool to deliver value for money, but this is not fully understood by procurers yet. The status quo needs to be disrupted with a shift away from the adversarial culture that clings to “lowest bid wins” if collaboration is to become endemic.
The measures contained will of course eventually strengthen the regulatory framework for construction products, particularly when underpinned by market surveillance and an effective enforcement regime led by the Office for Product Safety and Standards. The introduction of the UKCA quality mark is a real opportunity for the UK to lead on effective standards of performance compliance, but there are significant concerns about the capacity to achieve the transition within the already extended deadline.
Safety also always depends on the competence of those who design, build and install, along with those in the supply chain who produce materials and product, as well as the experts who assess and certify standards continue to be met.
Here there are not just challenges to introducing new competency frameworks, but the added concerns that in established activities there is not enough existing capacity to meet the level of demand the new regulatory regime will create for competent professionals. The example of insurance difficulties faced by fire risk assessors, which is diluting an already limited resource, shows it may become harder for responsible and accountable persons to find competent people to assure safety for their buildings.
Rightly, everyone recognises the coming of a landmark piece of legislation; one that will drive a change from a long-held status quo in desperate need of change. The Fire Sector Federation, along with many organisations involved in fire safety, has always advocated the introduction of third-party certification as a simple and effective way to ensure quality and safety in our built environment.
It feels such a pity this low hanging fruit does not appear in all that is currently being proposed. Industry’s approach to people and product assurance is often third-party assurance and leaving it out of the ‘people’ mix suggests a missed opportunity to enact a national system for third-party accreditation and registration for all professionals working on the design and construction of buildings and not mandating competency in some tasks.
Whatever comes next 2022 must be the year when we stopped talking and really started doing; delivering the safety assurances needed to instil public trust that our buildings are safe.