New product testing regime looms after Morrell review

The government has published the long-awaited Independent Review of the Construction Product Testing Regime – with a major shake-up in the regulatory system likely to follow.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) appointed former government chief construction adviser Paul Morrell and barrister Anneliese Day to examine how the UK’s system for testing the safety of construction products could be strengthened, following the 2017 Grenfell disaster.

product testing regime

“Many standards are outdated, inconsistent or non-existent.”

Paul Morrell

The main legislation through which products are currently regulated is the Construction Products Regulations (CPR), implemented in the UK in 2013 through EU regulations, along with a surveillance and enforcement system.

But the 174-page review provides widespread criticism of the current regime.

Current product testing system

It said that “the most obvious gap in the current system is that only construction products for which there is a designated standard are covered by the Construction Products Regulation” which accounts for only one-third of all construction products in manufacture, leaving 20,000-30,000 products unregulated.

The report said that “many standards are outdated, inconsistent or non-existent” while 2020 research on behalf of DLUHC questions “the fitness for purpose of a number of standards critical for testing products for resistance and reaction to fire”.

It added there are “five different routes and up to six steps through the system”, which makes the CPR assessment process so complex that few people properly understand it. There is also “a concerning disconnect between those involved in the assessment process and those who design and construct buildings”.

Meanwhile, enforcement has been “almost totally non-existent”, with no prosecutions under the CPR since it was enacted, and only a limited number of investigations.

Proposed remedies

The Morrell review offers several solutions.

All construction products will be brought into the scope of the current CPR through a ‘general safety requirement’. This is derived from the EU General Product Safety Regulation which will extend its principles from consumer goods to construction products.

Some products not currently covered will be brought into the CPR regime by a new designated standard or by being added to a list of “safety-critical” products to be set out in regulations by the Secretary of State.

There will be a new National Regulator for Construction Products, based in the Office for Product Safety within the Department for Business and Trade, who will work with the new Building Safety Regulator, based in the Health and Safety Executive.

The report issued a “call for honesty” on the part of manufacturers and “full disclosure” to the approved body conducting the product assessment, in the declaration of performance, technical information, and all marketing information relating to the product. Any breach of this duty will be an offence subject to new sanctions available to the regulator.

Gove response

In a statement to the House of Commons, DLUHC Secretary of State Michael Gove, said: “I would like to thank the reviewers for the comprehensive and thorough assessment of the current system and for their report and recommendations. We recognise that more needs to be done and are carefully considering the recommendations put forward by the independent reviewers.

“I will also consider how our regulatory regime can ensure that only responsible businesses can make and sell construction products. It is unacceptable that cladding and insulation manufacturers have neither acknowledged their part in the legacy of unsafe buildings in the United Kingdom, nor contributed to the cost of remediating buildings.

“To deliver the change we need, I will set out our proposals for reform of the UK’s construction product regime in due course, building on the work of this review.”

Industry reaction

Dame Judith Hackitt, who heavily criticised construction product testing in her 2018 report ‘Building a Safer Future’, said the Morrell review “marks a major step forward in mapping the complexity and opacity of the current construction product regime and also identifies ways in which significant improvements can and should be made”.

She added: “We must move from a state where: up to two-thirds of products are unregulated, there is lack of clarity around purpose of testing, the fitness for purpose of current standards is questioned and there is no enforcement to implement a process that delivers quality and confidence.

“The task now is to use the wealth of information mapped out here to create a new framework that drives the right behaviours, which enables effective enforcement by the regulators and delivers buildings where people can have confidence in their quality and safety.”

Last month, Hackitt set out a new performance framework for construction products and told CM, “there is a high level of consistency with our framework and Paul’s report”.

Eddie Tuttle, director of policy, external affairs and research at CIOB, said: “This report is welcome and is clear that the testing regime for construction products must be effective to reassure the public. The failings highlighted by the Grenfell tragedy are all too apparent and this report makes it clear that change is necessary.”

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