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9th September 2020

The second report from the Industry Safety Steering Group on the progress of culture change in the construction sector.

Last month the Industry Safety Steering Group [ISSG] published our second report to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government*.

The ISSG was established in December 2018 as part of the government’s response to the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report, which had called on the government to “help to create a culture change and a more responsible building industry”.

The purpose of the ISSG, which is chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt and meets bi-monthly, is to provide constructive challenge to the industry and determine what action is needed to accelerate culture change in the industry. We also look to highlight examples of best practice and those organisations that are pushing ahead with the changes that are needed now, rather than waiting for legislation.

Over the last year the ISSG has heard from 40 organisations and explored a range of issues including competency, insurance, contracts, procurement and building management.

I have selected five issues from the report that illustrate some of the work that is ongoing to raise standards of building safety in our industry.

Unsafe cladding (and the EWS1 process)

The issue of unsafe cladding and how this was affecting leaseholders’ ability to buy, sell, insure or re-mortgage their properties was already making headlines when the ISSG heard from mortgage lenders last year.

The uncertainty was a consequence of government advice at the time that had made building owners responsible for checking that the external wall system on their buildings was safe. The problem was that landlords were reluctant to carry out the necessary checks and individual leaseholders couldn’t afford to do it.

But there was also no agreed process for the inspection of an external wall system that would allow a suitably qualified surveyor to provide the required sign off.

In December last year the ISSG heard from the RICS, UK Finance and the Building Society Association and were encouraged to learn that together with lenders, valuers, and other industry representatives, they had come up with a solution.

That solution was the ‘External Wall Fire Review’ process and the EWS1 form, and it was an important step forward. Although in practice the process has not been without its challenges, it nevertheless showed what industry could achieve when it worked a problem.

But it has also highlighted another issue: the lack of suitably qualified and competent fire engineers to undertake the required assessments, an issue which the ISSG has since raised with the Institute of Fire Engineers.

But, as we know, the issue of competence is wider than one discipline.

Competence

In August last year the Competency Steering Group (CSG) published its interim report entitled ‘Raising the Bar’ which set out measures to raise standards of competency for those who design, construct, inspect, maintain and operate higher risk buildings. The final report, to be titled ‘Setting the Bar’, is due to be published soon but the work to set standards has been ongoing in the meantime.

Earlier this year, the ISSG heard from the British Standards Institute, which was setting up a Built Environment Competence Standards Strategy Group (BECS for short) to lead and coordinate the development of standards for the duytholder roles under the new building safety regime. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has been asked to lead the working group responsible for developing standards for the Principal Contractor role.

The discussion about competency raises an important question for professional bodies. Where their Members undertake dutyholder roles, how do they ensure that they not only have the required technical knowledge, but demonstrate the right behaviours?

The CIOB is about to launch a series of training modules in Building Safety. Alongside this, we are also considering the processes that will be needed to assess and assure the competence of our members performing these roles in the future.

Digital ‘golden thread’

One of the issues highlighted by the Building a Safer Future report was the “lack of complete, accurate and up to date building information” and the need for “robust record keeping, with a digital ‘golden thread’ of key building information running through all phases of design, construction and occupation”.

The ‘golden thread’ is a key concept underpinning the new safety regime and one that offers a foundation for behavioural change too.

Last month, the ISSG heard from various organisations that are already working to embed the golden thread into their new and existing housing stock.

Alongside this the CIOB is undertaking an online survey to investigate the construction industry’s understanding of the golden thread; what it is, why it is needed, and how it will be delivered in practice. The results will be published in a report later this year, which will be available to industry and government.

However, it is important that the industry does not try to ‘eat the (digital) elephant whole’ when it comes to implementing the golden thread. The need for our industry to embrace digital technology and the benefits that come with that is key to improving quality and productivity, but in the short term the focus of the golden thread should be on those elements that are critical to building safety and that only needs us to bite off a chunk of the (digital) elephant.

Building control

Building control has a key role to play in the new building safety regime, but when the ISSG met with building control bodies last year, we were disappointed by the lack of progress and the distinct lack of collaboration. Since then I am pleased to say the profession has made great strides with the publication in July this year of the ‘Future of Building Control’ report**.

The report sets out recommendations on the future regulation of the building control sector and profession in England. It is a compelling vision and a credit to those organisations that came together to produce it.

It is essential that the vision becomes a reality, particularly given the proposals in the Draft Building Safety Bill which will see the Building Safety Regulator become the building control authority for buildings in scope, with power to oversee and report on the performance of building control bodies. It also sees the separation of those who inspect from those who approve, which was one of the recommendations in the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report.

Culture Change and Leadership

One theme that runs throughout the work of the ISSG and features strongly in the report is the need for culture change in our industry. But this will only happen if there is leadership on building safety, something that has been lacking so far.

In the last year, it has become clear that some parts of the industry are making real progress. But it is also clear that far too many are waiting for legislation before acting. Given the evidence, that approach is not sustainable, practically, or ethically.

The coming year is going to be challenging both for our economy and for the industry, but ensuring that residents feel safe and are safe in their homes remains a priority.

The onus is on our industry to be leading and driving forward changes to building safety now. The message is clear. Don’t wait for legislation to make the changes that are necessary now to ensure that we never have another tragedy like Grenfell.

Links

* https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploa...

** https://www.constructionmanagermagazine.com/11-key-proposals-to-overhaul...

MORE LIKE THIS: Read Paul's blog on Why the Government's additional £1 billion fund for remediation of cladding on high rise residential buildings is good news for residents.