Former Health & Safety Executive chair Dame Judith Hackitt says that the construction industry’s regulatory system is not fit for purpose and contractors are taking short cuts, with little or no quality monitoring.
In essence, contractors are out of control.
Dame Judith Hackitt was appointed by government to lead an independent review of building regulations and fire safety following the lethal Grenfell Tower fire in June. She has published her interim findings1 today (18th December 2017).
Alongside her interim report, Dame Judith is calling on the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government to come together to address the ‘shortcomings’ identified so far.
The interim report finds that:
- a culture change is required, with industry taking greater responsibility for what is built
- the current system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise buildings is not fit for purpose
- a clear, quick and effective route for residents to raise concerns and be listened to, must be created.
Her initial findings echo key findings of Professor John Cole’s investigation last year into defects that were found across Edinburgh school buildings.
Dame Judith writes: “There is plenty of good practice but it is not difficult to see how those who are inclined to take shortcuts can do so. Change control and quality assurance are poor throughout the process. What is initially designed is not what is being built, and quality assurance of materials and people is seriously lacking.”
Prof Cole also raised the alarm over the construction industry’s inability to carry out quality control.
And like Cole, she also points a finger at the building standards system. Dame Judith Hackitt said: “I have found that the regulatory system for safely designing, constructing and managing buildings is not fit for purpose. The current system is highly complex and there is confusion about the roles and responsibilities at each stage. In many areas there is a lack of competence and accreditation.
“While this does not mean all buildings are unsafe, it does mean we need to build a more effective system for the future. That is why I am today calling for the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government to come together to identify how to overcome these shortcomings together.”
The interim report sets out six broad areas for change:
- ensuring that regulation and guidance is risk-based, proportionate and unambiguous
- clarifying roles and responsibilities for ensuring that buildings are safe
- improving levels of competence within the industry
- improving the process, compliance and enforcement of regulations
- creating a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ voices to be heard and listened to
- improving testing, marketing and quality assurance of products used in construction.
On competence, the interim report says: "There is a need to raise levels of competence and establish formal accreditation of those engaged in the fire prevention aspects of the design, construction, inspection and maintenance of high-rise residential and complex buildings."
On compliance with regulations, it says: "There needs to be a golden thread for high-rise residential and complex buildings so that the original design intent, and any subsequent changes or refurbishment, are recorded and properly reviewed, along with regular reviews of overall building integrity."
The independent review will now undertake its second phase of work – including targeted work in partnership with the sector and other stakeholders.
A summit involving government and representatives from the building industry will take place in the New Year and a final report will be published in spring 2018.
Leading organisations from across the industry acknowledged that Hackitt was absolutely right – corners are being cut and safety is being compromised, either through greed or incompetence, or both.
Responding to the interim report, Build UK chief executive Suzannah Nichol said: “Dame Judith Hackitt has engaged extensively with industry and the interim report of the independent review rightly identifies the need for wholesale change across building regulations alongside much needed cultural change within the industry. A focus on clarifying roles and responsibilities across a buildings life cycle, ensuring competence of individuals and examining product testing and marketing reflect the industry’s views. The construction industry stands ready to support the design and implementation of a regulatory regime fit for the future.”
Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry said: “We welcome the interim findings of the Hackitt Review which make clear that there is much for the construction industry and its regulators to address post-Grenfell. The FMB submitted a detailed response to the review and many of our points have been reflected in its initial findings. In particular, we welcome the acknowledgement that although some safety-critical tradespeople, for example gas engineers, must be registered for different types of work, others do not have such requirements. We are also pleased that the review has recognised that current Building Regulations and guidance are too complex and unclear. We look forward to working with the government and our industry colleagues to address the areas of failure so such an incident is never allowed to happen again.”
Brian Berry concluded: “I’d also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Dame Judith Hackitt and the wider review team for the swiftness with which this probing and insightful interim report has been delivered. It’s too often the case that such consultations and inquiries drag on when swift action is required. Here the Hackitt Review has managed to get the balance right by consulting with a broad range of people and organisations but then taking speedy action to reflect and report back. We hope the review team maintains this momentum so we can achieve a safer built environment, and one that always adheres to the highest of standards, as soon as possible.”
The Construction Industry Council (CIC), which represents the professional institutions, also recognises the need for substantial industry-wide improvement.
CIC chairman John Nolan, a former president of the Institution of Structural Engineers, said: “Within a few days of the Grenfell tragedy, all of the professional bodies in the built environment came together at a meeting of the Council and all agreed that there was a need for systemic change across the industry and a root-and-branch review of the regulatory system.”
The CIC has set up an expert panel and six sub-groups looking at skills, procurement, planning and building regulations, design and specification, on site and management in use.
The chairman of the CIC’s ‘After-Grenfell Panel on Life Safety’, Turlogh O’Brien, noted that the key themes emerging from the interim report are consistent with the consensus views emerging from the CIC members: “The focus on achieving unambiguous responsibility for life safety at all stages of a project – from planning and design, through construction and onto occupation – is a key recommendation from CIC members and something we wish to work towards achieving. We welcome unconditionally the emphasis on cultural and behavioural change.”
CIC chief executive Graham Watts has been a member of the Department for Communities & Local Government post-Grenfell industry response group since its establishment at the end of June. He also chairs a working group looking at the qualifications, competences and accreditation of fire safety consultants and fire risk assessors giving advice and assessments on buildings over 18 metres tall. “I applaud Dame Judith’s insightful and frank assessment of the headline issues that must be tackled and her emphasis on the need for more work on responsibilities for life safety and on competence and accreditation,” Mr Watts said. “She has made it clear that the current system is not fit for purpose and that the industry needs to step up to the plate to make the necessary changes. The professional bodies in the built environment – our members – stand ready to support the next phase of this essential work.”