The construction industry has been warned not to resume its “bad habits” amid the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, as a cross-industry group of more than 150 organisations in the fire and construction industries published a new report setting out an overarching system of competence that aims to prevent another tragedy like Grenfell Tower from occurring again.
Setting the Bar, the second and final report of the Competence Steering Group (CSG), is an update of the interim report, Raising the Bar, published in August last year.
The work was initiated by the recommendations in Dame Judith Hackett’s review Building a Safer Future.
The proposed overarching system of competence set out in the report is made up of four key elements:
- a new competence committee sitting within the Building Safety Regulator
- a national suite of competence standards – including new sector-specific frameworks developed by 12 working groups
- arrangements for independent assessment and reassessment against the competence standards
- a mechanism to ensure that those assessing and certifying people against the standards have appropriate levels of oversight.
The CSG and its working groups have developed sector frameworks and overarching competence frameworks. It said the frameworks would provide the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours needed to carry out specific roles, and deliver a more rigorous approach to the essential training and assessment that is required.
The competence requirements for the new role of building safety manager have also been completed. Setting the Bar includes a summary of the key points but there is a full and separate report published by working group 8 (WG8) alongside the report, entitled Safer people, safer homes: Building Safety Management. WG8 covers site supervisors and is led by the Chartered Institute of Building.
The CSG is recommending that all individuals whose work on higher-risk buildings is likely to materially affect safety outcomes, or who work unsupervised on these buildings, should meet the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours set out in the competence frameworks developed by the industry.
CSG chairman, Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, said: “We would see higher-risk buildings as an essential starting point for the new competence frameworks for the whole of the built environment, which would result in a step change across the sector and change of industry culture.”
“On the plus side, some important things are happening. The British Standards Institution (BSI) has got to grips with implementing the recommendations of working group 0 [the overarching competence body] in already taking forward the development of a suite of National Standards to raise competence in the built environment sector, which means that the CSG is in the enviable position of producing a report in which key recommendations are already being implemented.”
But he warned: “The impact on the economy caused by covid-19 already appears to be encouraging a return to bad habits, particularly with regard to the ‘race to the bottom’ and cut-price bids for work (already I am hearing of absurd uneconomic pricing which seems fit only for buying cashflow) and this will be a recipe for cutting corners and quality. And while the recently announced planning reforms will help to encourage industry recovery that must not be at the expense of quality and safety issues.”
The CSG has worked closely with the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and some of the report’s key recommendations have already been adopted, including the proposal for a Committee on Industry Competence as set out in the draft Building Safety Bill.
The CSG urged the government to make the assessments against the frameworks mandatory for those working on higher-risk buildings, and has called on government to take the lead by requiring that the competence framework set out within the report [subject to their review against the Overarching Competence Framework Standard currently being developed through BSI] must be met by any company or individual working on any higher-risk building.
Watts said: “There is no time to lose in casting aside the substandard practices that have shamed the industry. In this document we have set a new bar and we would urge all those working in life-critical disciplines to attain these higher levels of competence. Only then can we rebuild the trust of those who occupy and live in the buildings we design, construct and manage.”
Anthony Taylor, chairman of WG8, director, heath & safety for Avison Young, said: “Developing the completely new role of building safety manager has been an enormous undertaking, which we have worked closely with MHCLG to achieve. We believe the competences and job functions we have set out will deliver the reassurance and trust to residents that their buildings are being managed safely by landlords.”
The full report Setting the Bar and accompanying annexes can be downloaded here.
The executive summary is available here.
WG8 report Safer people, safer homes: Building Safety Management is available here.