Plan to Regulate Construction Professionals to Reduce Building Failures Post-Grenfell
- Date: Tuesday 20th August 2019
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The government’s forthcoming building safety regulator will hold a register of individuals and firms deemed qualified to act as “principal designers”, “principal contractors” and “building safety co-ordinators”, as part of a far-reaching post-Grenfell plan to reduce the risk of building failures and on-site hazards.
The future regulator would have the power to “strike off” any individuals or organisation in breach of accredited standards for the three groups, which would “relate to their overarching role” in ensuring the safety of the buildings in scope and the people who live in them.
Broadly, the scope of the scheme covers any firm, installer or professional involved in designing, building, maintaining or fire risk-assessing “higher risk residential buildings” (HRRBs) over six storeys, although some specialisms may choose to apply the rules to a wide range of buildings.
The plan is outlined in 'Raising the Bar', a 149 page consultation document produced by the construction sector as part of the joint industry-government response to the Grenfell Tower disaster.
It has been compiled by the Competence Steering Group (CSG), which brings together multiple organisations in the construction sector.
In turn, the CSG reported to the Industry Response Group, which spans the construction sector, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with support from the Local Government Association and National Fire Chiefs Council.
The CSG was also set up in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell review, which spelled out that the construction industry needed to raise standards in its ranks, or there would be a case for a mandatory qualification framework imposed by government.
According to the report, “the CSG’s goal was to ensure that ALL individuals involved in HRRBs, including those who do not identify with being a “professional”, cannot accidentally (or deliberately) slip through the net – and moreover, that their obligation to carry out their duties competently is spelt out to them”.
Twelve working groups have each developed proposals to drive up standards and expectations among specific professional groups, including installers, site supervisors, fire risk-assessors and fire engineers.
The proposed systems of competence checks would be based on existing qualifications and frameworks, which would be certified by third party assessors, professional institutions or trade bodies.
Any body involved in certification would maintain a “register” of accredited individuals or firms, while the certifying body would itself need to be accredited to carry out its role, by either the Engineering Council or the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).
A thirteenth working group devised plans for a Building Safety Competence Committee (BSCC) that would oversee and review the entire qualifications edifice.
The BSCC would “drive continued improvement” in standards, by developing “new national competence standards, robust assessment frameworks and guidance”.
But while nine of the identified professional groups would see standards raised “bottom up” by building on the existing qualifications and assessment routes, there would also be a “top down sharp focus” on the roles of principal designer, principal contractor and building safety manager.
Here, the BSCC would itself hold the register for firms certified to perform these roles, while also advising the forthcoming statutory regulator – itself the subject of an ongoing government consultation – on the application of professional standards.
The Association for Project Safety (APS) welcomed the proposals, as a means of raising safety standards across the board, and not just in addressing the “life safety” of residents.
It told Health and Safety at Work: “The APS is right behind emphasis on skills and training in the construction sector – APS believes this is vital to cut the stubbornly high cost the industry can still levy on lives, health and wellbeing. We also think Raising the Bar will go a long way to ensure people – in the wake of Grenfell – can sleep soundly in their beds knowing that everyone, at every step of the construction process, is properly skilled and no one can slip through the net and lower standards of safety.”
However, it is thought that the language of the report was vague in places, and that the potential level of responsibilities could raise professional indemnity insurance premiums to unaffordable levels.
This issue has recently come to the fore with a number of “approved inspectors”, private sector firms offering building control services, saying they had been forced out of business by post-Grenfell premium hikes.
The APS said: “The suggested building safety co-ordinator - as well as a possible new statutory role of principal designer - puts a welcome emphasis on safety and co-ordination in construction.
“Having dedicated people is positive but the details will need to be worked through, the level and nature of the required skills fully defined and for the role to be insurable in terms of professional indemnity insurance otherwise no one will be able to take on the roles at all.”
The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) welcomed the idea that the role of principal contractor would be regulated. However, the FMB has itself launched a pan-industry working group to examine the idea of a mandatory licensing scheme for all contractors, not just those involved in mid- to high-rise residential buildings, and wanted to see co-ordination between its plan and the competence agenda.
Speaking to Health and Safety at Work, Sarah McMonagle, the FMB’s director of communications, said: “The recommendation regarding the mandatory register of individuals should align with the existing work being undertaken by the Construction Licensing Task Force, which with support from government is developing a licensing scheme for the UK construction industry."