Dame Judith said that value engineering was a phrase that she would be “happy to never hear again. It is anything but value, it is cutting costs and quality.”
Ridding the industry of value engineering is just one part of a culture change that needs to be embraced to deliver buildings that are fit for purpose. The progress made in the field of site safety in the past 15 or 20 years now needs to be matched by progress in build quality, she said.
Dame Judith Hackitt, former Health & Safety Executive chair and author of the recent Building a Safer Future: Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, delivered the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) in Kenilworth on Friday.
She was commissioned by government to undertake a review of the regulatory regime following last year’s Grenfell Tower fire. She told the conference that it had taken a tragedy to wake everyone up to the need for a change in construction industry culture. She said: “People are looking for quick fixes but they need to understand that root and branch reform is required. This has to be a turning point to bring about the culture change we need.”
Discussing recent progress in site safety, she said: “Currently construction safety is focused on the workforce but we need to also consider residents and the public. We need to think about buildings not as jigsaw puzzles that magically come together, they need to be treated as a complex system – a change in one small thing can have massive changes and impact integrity of the buildings.”
As well as ending the corner-cutting inherent in value engineering, she said that the construction industry needed to stop working in silos. “The structure of industry has to change to make it more effective,” she said. “We need to put a focus on the way in which buildings are procured. If we have a process that makes people bid at a cost they can’t afford to deliver at, we set ourselves up to fail.”
She concluded by talking about the race to the bottom and the lack of focus the sector has in “delivering safe homes for people to live in, as well as the fundamental flaws in design and build contracts that sees undocumented projects handed over to clients.”
She also spoke at length about how the issue of competency has to be addressed. Recognising that there are many competency schemes currently in operation, she said: “We have many people working at different levels. We need to understand these levels and people need to know what is expected from them and we need to make sure those who are not fully compliant are properly supervised.”
A key part of her speech clarified the role of the approved inspector, something key to CABE’s membership. Dame Judith said: "There is no reason why approved inspectors can't be part of the Joint Competent Authority, there just can't be a conflict of interest. You can do both roles, just not on the same project.”