Building Safety Act: stepping up on competency

Building Safety Act competency
Showing competency is a requirement of the Building Safety Act (Image:

Demonstrating competency is now a legal requirement for the new dutyholder roles of the Building Safety Act. As CIOB launches its Principal Contractor Competency Certification Scheme, Will Mann looks at whether the industry is ready for the changes.

“People outside the industry still have this attitude that construction is full of cowboy builders. But we don’t all deserve to be tarred with that brush. There are good people out there and they genuinely want to do the right thing. And this CIOB competency scheme will recognise that – it will certify those people who are doing the right thing.”

Tilbury Douglas project manager Dan Harmer is the first person to complete – successfully – the new CIOB Principal Contractor Competence Certification Scheme (PCCCS).

Initially run as a pilot, with a full rollout planned for later in April, it is the first scheme of its kind in construction.

Its arrival could not be more timely. As of October 2023, anyone carrying out the new dutyholder roles of principal contractor (PC) and principal designer (PD) on construction projects must demonstrate their competence. This requirement, introduced in last year’s amendments to the Building Regulations, will take on sharper focus in July when building control becomes formally regulated.

It means a major step up on competence for construction project managers, although there are concerns that many – and we are talking big numbers – are not aware of their new dutyholder responsibilities.

Paul Nash FCIOB, who chairs CIOB’s quality advisory panel and sits on the Industry Safety Steering Group, says the changes are not before time.

Consequences of poor building quality

“Unfortunately, we’re still seeing the consequences of poor building quality or building safety failures far too often, aren’t we?” he says. “The fire in Valencia and the balcony collapse in Brighton before Christmas are two examples.

“We heard in the Grenfell Inquiry about people acting beyond their level of competence, such as an architect who had never worked on a high-rise building before, and Dame Judith Hackitt highlighted competence concerns in her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.”

Since then, “the industry has been on a journey”, Nash says. This has included the Construction Industry Council’s competency working groups, publication of the Competence Steering Group reports, a new competence framework for project managers (developed by CIOB), and the new BSI PAS 8672 standard for PCs. Now we have CIOB’s PCCCS.

“I’ve spoken to tier 1 contractors, who have been asking for a while this question: how do we demonstrate our competence?” Nash says. “And CIOB’s certification scheme provides the answer.”

Gerald Naylor: “It makes sense to have a register that clients can rely on.”

To be eligible for the PCCCS, which involves a written application and a rigorous peer review, candidates must be a member of a professional body and have three years of experience. It is offered in two categories: A, for all buildings excluding higher-risk buildings, and B, which also includes higher-risk buildings.

The scheme has been developed by Gerald Naylor FCIOB, director of the Construction Wales Innovation Centre, who also wrote PAS 8671.

“Most professionals in our industry already have a high level of competence,” he says. “They carry out due diligence. They have the right cultural mindset. The people who provided feedback during the creation of PAS 8671 and for the PCCCS are embracing change, they want to see a level playing field.

Interest from big contractors

“We’ve had a lot of interest in the CIOB scheme from big contractors who want to get in there first and show their clients they are taking competency seriously.

“But I think those who work at the smaller end of the industry, who don’t have big organisations supporting them, they will have a lot to learn about the new PC duty holder role and they have got to learn it fairly quickly.

“The biggest change is a cultural one. We have to be more mindful of what we’re producing. It should not be based on just price and speed, but on quality and on safety. Not just safety for the construction workers, but safety for the building occupants.”

Naylor acknowledges that the dutyholder roles of PC and PD have caused confusion because they share the same terminology as the CDM Regulations. “Some people think it is a simple extension of CDM, which it isn’t,” he notes.

CIOB Principal Contractor Competency Certification Scheme

  • Developed by CIOB after the institute chaired the group which developed PAS 8672 – Competence for Individual Principal Contractors, based on the recommendations and core competence criteria set out in BSI Flex 8670. 

  • The CIOB Principal Contractor Competency Certification Scheme is a competence-based validation of a person’s skills to carry out the new dutyholder role of principal contractor under the building safety legislation and does not relate to the historic role under CDM regulations.

  • The scheme has two categories: one covers all buildings excluding higher-risk buildings and the other is for all buildings.

  • Candidates complete a written competence-based application form and then attend a peer review.

  • The scheme is renewable every five years.

  • Candidates need to be a member of CIOB or another professional body, that holds them to a code of ethics, and have three years of experience.

  • The CIOB PCCCS is the only one of its kind in the market.

Further information:

 But he hopes understanding about the dutyholder responsibilities will grow quickly now it is enshrined in law.

“The pressure will build from legislators and auditors,” he says. “There will be peer pressure as big contractors put their project managers through competency certification. The insurance industry may also respond to this issue of competency now that PCs need to be accountable under the Building Safety Act.”

Clients key to PC competence

Key to driving PC competence certification will be clients, thinks Nash. “There are a lot of additional duties on clients here and if I’m talking to contractors or quantity surveyors or consultants or architects, I say please, please, please make sure your clients are aware of their duties under the Building Safety Act,” he says.

“It’s not like CDM, where a client could appoint a principal designer on the CDM, and they’ve discharged their duties. There are much more onerous requirements on clients for all buildings, not just higher-risk buildings.

“Clients will need to demonstrate and satisfy themselves that the people they are appointing as PCs and PDs are competent.”

Would it therefore make sense to have a register of PCs who are certified as competent, to help guide clients? Building Control surveyors must be registered with the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) from next month. RIBA has set up a register for architects who have completed its PD certification scheme and the Association for Project Safety (APS) has its own PD register for non-architects.

Register of principal contractors

The good news is that CIOB is planning to create a register for PCs who successfully complete the competency scheme.

“It makes sense to have a register that clients can rely on rather than having to individually assess every contractor they employ,” Naylor says.

Nash agrees: “What the client can then do is say, ‘I’ve taken all reasonable proportionate steps to establish that the person I’m appointing to this function is competent. And the way I’ve done that is I’ve gone to that person’s professional body’.”

Meanwhile, huge numbers of construction industry project managers will have to go through the competency certification process – and as soon as possible.

“We must be talking about 1,000s, possibly 10s of 1,000s,” says Nash. “In the CIOB membership alone, the vast majority of those are going to be project managers in contractors.

“But there can be no arguments. This process started with one tragic event – the Grenfell Tower fire – but let’s not kid ourselves, this isn’t restricted to high-rise buildings. We saw it on Edinburgh schools in 2016, we’ve seen it on other projects since. We need to raise levels of competence across all building projects.”

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  1. There should be a code of practice for clients to ensure and help them select competent PD’s and PC’s. All of these articles talk about downstream checks, but it’s too late if the client has already appointed a contractor or PD, or they maybe taking on the role of PD themselves.

  2. Made for very useful reading, as PD I think I need to get competent certified.

  3. The title Principal Designer, especially now there is both a CDM Principal Designer and a Building Regs Principal Designer, is going to be just too confusing, especially to clients, who mostly would regard -if asked- that of course their architect is the Principal Designer, employed to design the building.

    This is particularly likely (I would suggest inevitably) to be the case for all the private, domestic clients and small, and single practice architects. The regulations apply to such, as we are constantly reminded -not just to the high-rise build category- but the advice and texts received via your webpages and journals, and the decisions out of the consultations to use the term Principal Dejsigner has clearly ignored the actuality of the smaller build, smaller client, smaller clients and the smaller architectural practices… who by the bye still produce the best architecture.

    The design will in principal be designed by the architect, appointed by the client to be the Principal Designer of the building. Anyone else in a team of consultants can’t also call themselves the Principal Designer without causing confusion. I know I am right about this, but it is probably too late.

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