14th June 2017: a date that will live with people in the same way that 9/11 and 7/7 will. The loss of lives and homes in the Grenfell tragedy highlighted that clear changes needed to be made within our industry. Dame Judith Hackitt was placed with responsibility for highlighting these areas. Almost 2 years on, what progress has been made and how does that impact the industry?
A lack of clear responsibility and therefore ownership of risk was highlighted, with the need for all parties, including client, designer, contractor and owner operator being able to demonstrate that they have done everything possible to provide a safe building. The passing of responsibility needs to be controlled with clearly defined lines as to who is ultimately responsible.
Improved communication with residents
The report highlighted that communication between the contractors involved in the building and servicing of any development needed to improve, giving residents adequate information about who is involved and responsible and including clear routes on feeding back any concerns and how they are addressed.
It was suggested that any regulatory framework should be ‘simpler and more effective,’ removing the danger of future errors occurring with the proposal that stricter penalties should be levied for those who fail to comply with the standards within the framework.
Hackitt discussed the importance of documentary evidence which must be produced throughout the life-cycle of a building, to provide both assurance and evidence the building has been built safely and is fit for purpose. Furthermore, it is essential that contractors keep any paperwork relating to the building project in case of future concerns raised and that everyone within the industry needs to adopt ways to remove the risk.
More rigorous testing
The process for testing and certifying was seen as being overly complex, calling for an overhaul on the way products are classified and tested in order to make the process transparent and efficient. There have been some interesting discussions around the fact that certain products have not been ruled out, however it is more of a guidance so that contractors and specifiers are able to make a more informed choice as to whether the risk is suitable.
A term I have often heard used in the industry is ‘value engineering’, and the question I have seen following on from the Hackitt report is ‘does this mean that it is dead?’ The opinion I have is that value is not always about cost and could be about quality of life and everything that revolves around that offering greater value.
New authorities to answer to
A new authority proposed, made up of the Local Authority Building Standard, Fire and Rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive, was brought in to oversee improved safety in buildings above ten storeys, however how long before we see this filter down to buildings below ten storeys. Again, if the recommendations improve the quality of the buildings we are constructing surely that is something we should all instigate.
As an industry, we all have to start taking greater responsibility for the construction, maintenance and operation of our buildings and the changes that are coming. Cost saving across the industry will be tempered, with the overall objective of providing a better quality living environment for generations to come now at the forefront. As an industry, we either adapt to change or we are destined to be left behind the same way the digital industry and the internet have changed the way we assimilate information.
If you want to speak to us about our approach to compliance in the construction industry, particularly in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Find a copy of the Hackitt Review here.