Technical

Demonstrating competence in the building envelope sector

building envelope
The framework will become the recognised measure of competence for building envelope suppliers (Image: Dreamstime.com)

What does competency look like for the building envelope industry? Su Butcher talks to Neville Grunwald from Wates, chair of the sector’s Joint Competence Initiative, and Ross Finnie from AccuRoof, who is on the governance steering group.

Su Butcher: Demonstrating competence is one of the more complex challenges of the Building Safety Act and will take years to achieve. What does it mean and how will it be achieved in the envelope sector?

Neville Grunwald: The Building Safety Act applies to all buildings and requires us to meet the functional requirements of the building regulations and carry out the work with competent people.

Both of those things sound simple, but they are challenging. No one is showing us what good looks like; although there are three PAS documents setting out a framework, it is down to leading trade bodies to define the actual competence standards.

It’s been a tough four years for the supply chain. It is hard to ask them to now prove competency through additional training. Although there is installer training available, there is no such provision for designers, specifiers, procurers and site supervisors, all of whom have a direct impact on the quality and safety of buildings.

Ross Finnie: The JCI [Joint Competence Initiative] is trying to define a competency framework for the whole sector. It’s a huge task but we’re working to develop a solution, starting with a baseline competency test for the Building Safety Act. AccuRoof’s field technicians inspect our roofs. They also train the subcontractors and are trained by the manufacturer. But who is to say the manufacturer is competent?

NG: The competence intent of the Building Safety Act is to prove skills, knowledge, experience and behaviour (SKEB) so it’s not just about training either.

What is the JCI and how does it relate to the building safety landscape?

NG: The JCI is part of the Industry Competence Steering Group (ICSG) that reports to the Industry Competence Committee (ICC). We are working with them under their ‘super sector programme’ to develop installation competence standards for every type of roofing. SIG (AccuRoof’s parent company) is helping with that.

“People will need to demonstrate their competence with a regular test as part of a code of conduct.”

Ross Finnie, AccuRoof

We were set up four years ago by 12 tier 1 contractors, and recruited trade bodies – National Federation of Roofing Contractors, Liquid Roofing and Waterproofing Association (LWRA), Institute of Roofing. We also involved clients, insurers, manufacturers, distributors and specialist subcontractors of all sizes; they all have different views on what’s necessary and how to make it work.

Will the JCI approach become the recognised measure of competence for envelope suppliers?

NG: Yes – we’ve all got to work together to make a single set of standards; more than one avenue will just create confusion. We’re a good way there already: the ICC and ICSG chairs refer to us the leading body for competence in the building envelope sector. We need to keep pushing to get the standards set, and then start thinking about training gaps.

How will training work? Well, my career spans 37 years in the industry – after all this time how will I find all my CPD and manufacturer training certificates? That’s not practical. The baseline competency test the JCI is developing will provide a way to prove your previous learning and this can be used as a foundation to build upon with additional training and CPD. Competency isn’t a static thing; it needs to continuously evolve.

RF: Not to mention legislative changes. People will need to demonstrate their competence with a regular test as part of a code of conduct, with measures in place to train everyone and keep them aware. Collaborating with the JCI has certainly helped us demonstrate our commitment to meeting competence requirements.

What will this mean practically for manufacturers, designers and installers?

NG: Principal contractors and principal designers and their subcontractors and suppliers will have to prove their SKEB, so we don’t get a repeat of Grenfell, where the architect was pushed outside its field of experience. The requirements for construction haven’t really changed much, as the industry should always have been working to the building regulations, which includes competence. What’s changed is that the government are now holding us to account via the regulator.

Do you think that the contractual arrangements will change? Does this mean the end of design and build?

NG: Design and build is not the enemy – the enemy is designing the project as we are building it. Ross and I have been on so many roofs where, for all the right reasons, someone has done the wrong thing. It’s usually because the architect or installer didn’t tell AccuRoof about an issue so they couldn’t address it.

“A key part of competency is knowing where your competency stops. I won’t sign off passive fire protection because I’m not a fire engineer.”

Neville Grunwald, Wates

The installer goes on site and thinks, “well, I’ll just fix it”. It’s these problems on site that lead to failures in the building envelope that can later cause health issues for the occupants. That’s why I really admire the FIS (Finishes and Interiors Sector) who are promoting the idea for installers to use “the responsible no”.

RF: We are getting involved earlier in roofing projects, in a more collaborative effort. A little more time up front to walk through the design during RIBA Stages 3 and 4 so we don’t miss any of those critical details and can address them at the right time.

This is quite a culture change then?

NG: You’re dead right. One key part of competency is knowing where your competency stops. I won’t sign off a passive fire protection scheme because I’m not a fire engineer – it’s just the same with roofing. I’m stretched across a range of disciplines, but Ross Finnie and his team are far more focused, so when they say that’s not the best solution, I’d be a fool not to listen. We’re trying to build a team; the better our supply chain is, the easier my life becomes. A rising tide lifts all boats.

RF: For example, architects are defined by their designs, and they look at things from that perspective. But we’ve got to have the strength to say when something doesn’t work.

We had a project like this where the architect wanted to bring a single-ply membrane down to ground level and we walked away because it wouldn’t work. The architect took on another advisor, but the test rigs failed. They came back to us for a different solution, so in the end it was in everyone’s interests to say no.

NG: No one will thank you for providing a failing building. The idea that we can avoid confronting a bad decision won’t save us from an appointment with someone in a curly wig sometime in the future.

Where can people find out more?

NG: We’ll be registering membership organisations, in the next couple of months, and launching a website. People are welcome to get in touch with me via LinkedIn in the meantime. The JCI White Paper is available on the Council for Aluminium in Building (CAB) website.

In addition, we have PAS Flex 8670 for the overarching competency framework, plus PAS 8671 for the principal designer role and those with designer responsibilities and PAS 8672 for the principal contractor role and those with contractor responsibilities.

Su Butcher is director of Just Practising and was Digital Champion of 2023 at the Digital Construction Awards.

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