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Hackitt: Lack of leadership and collaboration is obstructing safety

23 Jul 19 The fragmented nature of the construction industry and the reluctance of some organisation to share best practice have been identified in a report to government as key obstacles to improving building safety.

The Grenfell Tower fire gave impetus to reform of building safety
The Grenfell Tower fire gave impetus to reform of building safety

The Industry Safety Steering Group (ISSG), set up by the Ministry of Housing in September 2018 with Dame Judith Hackitt in the chair, has now published its first report.

It says: "A lack of leadership and collaboration has led to incoherencies in approaches to building safety."

After the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 it became evident that the system of building regulations and industry attitudes to safety needed looking at. That the culture of cutting costs too often trumps the culture of safety had to be addressed.

Former Health & Safety Executive (HSE) chair Dame Judith Hackitt was initially tasked with reviewing the regulatory framework. This resulted in The Independent Review of Building Regulations & Fire Safety final report, published in May 2018.

While government consulted on proposed new regulations, it commissioned Dame Judith to report on the progress of the construction industry in delivering the necessary culture change – and to hold the many industry stakeholders to account. The ISSG was set up in September 2018 and the report covers the first six months of its work.

While the ISSG says that it is broadly encouraged by the construction industry’s response to post-Grenfell initiatives, there are areas where more is clearly required.

“There is still much more work to do to ensure that the message of culture change reaches the whole of industry,” the report says.

For example, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) needs “to go significantly further to develop their role as industry leaders”.

The CLC is the panel of government-appointees co-chaired by Thames Tideway boss Andy Mitchell and whoever is the relevant junior minister that month. Its role is partly to advise ministers and partly to help get industry to embrace government strategy.

Hackitt’s team feels that the CLC is too focused on big infrastructure projects at the expense of the brickie or chippie on the street.

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It says: “Members of the ISSG were struck by the difference between the comprehensive safety culture of construction firms working on big infrastructure projects and those in the residential market. The ISSG were clear that there is scope for greater cooperation between the CLC and the ISSG to promote the importance of building safety across the construction sector.”

The report says: “Opportunities for alignment between safety and productivity goals were at risk of being missed, particularly in the residential market.”

The ISSG has therefore asked the CLC to look more at house-building and not just big construction.

In the building products sector there is also much evidence of companies demonstrating commitment to improvement in safety in general and fire safety in particular. The Construction Products Association (CPA) and British Board of Agrément (BBA) are both commended for “the significant progress made by both organisations to drive product standards”

But here, too, there is work to be done. “It is encouraging that parts of industry are raising standards and working collaboratively, however there is much more to do to raise the competency of those working with construction products and to ensure that construction products are effectively tested, marketed and traced and that suitable products are used in the right applications.”

The ISSG report concludes: “Overall, the ISSG has been encouraged with the progress being made by the industry representatives who have attended meetings. It is clear… that the ISSG’s challenges to industry are having an impact. However, the industry is fragmented, and a lack of leadership and collaboration has led to incoherencies in approaches to building safety. There is, therefore, further work to be done to ensure that culture change occurs across the whole of industry and that the ISSG has an effective plan of work to support this.

“Maintaining momentum across industry is vitally important and the formal consultation process on the new regulatory framework represent a significant milestone which must be used to agitate and mobilise the parts of industry that may be more complacent, to act now to embed changes to their ways of working. The ISSG will continue to put pressure on those who fail to demonstrate significant change until we are confident that sustained momentum and leadership are present within the industry itself to drive real lasting change. 

“It will be important to ensure that standards are raised across industry and not just amongst those whom the ISSG hears from or those who proactively engage with government. ISSG members will continue to engage with wider industry, using their networks to promote the message of culture change. It is also clear that industry can learn from the work of other industries such as the oil and gas, civil aviation and nuclear and chemical industry alongside other sectors who have been through structural changes to improve safety. The ISSG will continue to offer such opportunities for learning but, equally, industry needs to be receptive to learning from other sectors.  

“Over the coming months, the ISSG will hear from organisations across industry, and review topics including industry qualifications and how industry is preparing for the new dutyholder roles and responsibilities. The ISSG has a continuing role to play for the next year at least but it is vital that industry recognises that we are there to challenge them to fill the gaps in their own systems and processes. The work of the ISSG will be complete when the industry takes on that role for itself.”

Who are the Industry Safety Steering Group (ISSG)?

  • Dame Judith Hackitt, chair
  • Andy Neely, pro-vice-chancellor, University of Cambridge
  • Atula Abeysekera, Imperial College London
  • David Snowball, acting chief executive, Health & Safety Executive
  • Dame Deirdre Hutton, chair, Civil Aviation Authority
  • Elaine Bailey, CEO, Hyde Housing
  • Jeremy Pocklington, director general, housing and building safety, Ministry of Housing
  • John Cole, Royal Institute of British Architects
  • Ken Rivers, president, Institution of Chemical Engineers
  • Nick Coombe, National Fire Chiefs Council
  • Paul Nash, past president, Chartered Institute of Building
  • Scott Steedman, director of standards, British Standards Institution

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