Opinion

How can construction products be made safer?

With a new safety regulator on the way, construction’s product manufacturers must respond to increased scrutiny and controls, writes Peter Caplehorn

It’s clear from recent government announcements that change is on its way for the construction industry. The government’s commitment to reform has been clear and the building blocks are gradually being put in place to drive that much-needed change.

The Building Safety Programme appears to be gathering pace – with an announcement on the removal of unsafe cladding and, crucially for product manufacturers, its commitment to the introduction of a new product safety regulator. This regulator will be based within the Office for Product Safety and Standards, which will be expanded and given a significant £10m budget.

First mentioned in the Hackitt review, the announcement is a significant step towards construction products becoming subject to scrutiny, controls and, possibly, sanctions if things go wrong with performance.

The announcement is a significant step towards construction products becoming subject to scrutiny, controls and, possibly, sanctions

All this points to the importance government is beginning to place on construction products in the delivery of a safer built environment. Government departments are engaging with construction trade bodies not only on their own initiatives, such as the product regulator, but on industry-driven initiatives as well, including competence in the use and installation of products.

An industry-wide consultation has recently been launched on the proposed new Code for Construction Product Information. The aim is to gather industry views and develop a code that will work for the industry – ensuring all product information is clear, accurate, up-to-date, accessible and unambiguous.

Once up and running, it will ensure we do away with disingenuous marketing practices and help give confidence to all those using products across the supply chain. This is crucial to rebuild confidence, credibility and integrity in how our sector works, and the high-level technical competence that exists within it.

As we start the long road to recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, Rishi Sunak’s upcoming budget is expected to flesh out support for the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution with a pledge to improve the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals. Construction products will be crucial to this.

The green infrastructure which the government assures us is central to their recovery plan will be reliant on an innovative products industry that puts sustainability first, and one which has quality and safety at its heart.

It’s not just greener buildings to concern ourselves with, the products and materials sectors will be crucial to building new offshore wind, hydrogen or electric heating networks and greener walking and transport links. If the government is serious about building back greener, the sector has every reason to expect growth in investment and job opportunities, mainly in the country’s manufacturing heartlands of the Midlands and North.

It’s hard to understate the importance of products in the delivery of both a safer, greener and more prosperous future for construction. After all, our entire built environment is made up of them.

Peter Caplehorn is chief executive at the Construction Products Association.

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