Building safety: five key issues for construction

The Industry Safety Steering Group (ISSG) recently
published its second report. Paul Nash highlights five central themes that emerged from the group’s work

Safety focus: cladding is removed from a student accommodation block in Bristol (Image: Dreamstime)

1. Unsafe cladding 

The issue of unsafe cladding and how this was affecting leaseholders’ ability to buy, sell, insure or remortgage their properties was already making headlines when the ISSG heard from mortgage lenders last year.

The uncertainty was a consequence of government advice at the time that had made building owners responsible for checking that the external wall system on their buildings was safe. The problem was that landlords were reluctant to carry out the necessary checks and individual leaseholders couldn’t afford to do it.

RICS, UK Finance and the Building Society Association, together with lenders, valuers, and other industry representatives, have since come up with a solution. The ‘External Wall Fire Review’ process (and the EWS1 form) is an important step forward. 

2. Competence

In August last year the Competency Steering Group (CSG) published its interim report, Raising the Bar, which set out measures to raise standards of competency for those who design, construct, inspect, maintain and operate higher risk buildings. The final report, Setting the Bar, will be published soon.

The British Standards Institute has been setting up a Built Environment Competence Standards Strategy Group (BECS) to lead and coordinate the development of standards for the dutyholder roles under the new building safety regime. The CIOB has been asked to lead the working group responsible for developing standards for the principal contractor role.

The discussion about competency raises an important question for professional bodies. Where their members undertake the dutyholder roles, how do they ensure that they not only have the required technical knowledge but demonstrate the right behaviours?

3. Digital ‘golden thread’

One of the issues highlighted by Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building a Safer Future report was the “lack of complete, accurate and up-to-date building information” and the need for “robust record keeping, with a digital ‘golden thread’ of key building information running through all phases of design, construction and occupation”.

The ‘golden thread’ is a key concept under-pinning the new safety regime and one that offers a foundation for behavioural change too.

Some organisations are already working to embed the golden thread into their new and existing housing stock. Alongside this, the CIOB’s golden thread survey findings will help the industry’s understanding of what the golden thread is and how it will be delivered in practice.

4. Building control

Building control has a key role to play in the new building safety regime. After slow initial progress, in July the building control bodies published Future of Building Control, setting out recommendations on the future regulation of the building control sector and profession. 

It is essential the vision becomes a reality, given the proposals in the draft Building Safety Bill which will see the Building Safety Regulator become the building control authority for buildings in scope, with power to oversee and report on the performance of building control bodies. It also sees the separation of those who inspect from those who approve.

5. Culture change and leadership

One theme that runs throughout the work of the ISSG and features strongly in the report is the need for culture change in our industry.

While some parts of the industry are making real progress, too many are waiting for legislation before acting. 

The coming year is going to be challenging for the economy and the industry. But ensuring that residents feel safe and are safe in their homes remains a priority. The message is clear: Don’t wait for legislation to make the changes that are necessary now to ensure that we never have another tragedy like Grenfell.

Paul Nash is past president of the CIOB and sits on the Industry Safety Steering Group. Chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt, it reports on the progress of construction in delivering culture change and holds the industry to account on behalf of the government.

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  1. I recently worked on contract for Bouygues removing the cladding on a hotel for a major hotel chain, the surprise was the fact that the previous insulation / cladding contractor had made some fundemental mistakes,
    – Not following the suppliers technical literature for detail
    – Basic mistakes in installation with defective compartmentilisation barriers, with gaps between barriers and fire barriers the wrong way up.
    – the question has to be are the sub-contractors competent and what training had they received, my understanding was that they were not trained properly.
    – Are we doing enough to train the site team in the installation of the cladding, fire barriers and insulation, along with inspection and defect reporting,
    – This remedial project involved taking 2000 plus pictures at 5 stages covering 4 elevations.

  2. There is no competence standard to be benchmarked against.
    The output from CWCT is guidance but there are no courses or qualifications where you can say that all aspects of the specialisation of cladding is covered.
    All training and qualifications available cover isolated aspects not cladding as a system.
    A company needs to understand why they are doing something for them to get right what they are doing.

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