Report by: Mitch Gee, INCA Board Director
Reporting to members on my attendance of the Buildings Safety First Conference at County Hall on the 24th of March.
Building Safety First 2022 was a well-attended event with an impressive list of speakers and a packed agenda. More detail of this can be accessed via the following link. Construction Summits.
It is almost 5 years since the tragedy at Grenfell and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. Yet we still have not seen a conclusion to the enquiry, the Buildings Safety Bill is yet to become law. It is still unsure of how the cost of the remedial work required on over 12000 high rise buildings is going to be met. There are still thousands of leaseholders with flats they are unable to sell and potentially life changing debts that may need to be repaid. Despite all this, there has been progress and most of it in the right direction, although painfully slow. We should not forget that the progress has been impaired by a worldwide pandemic. The enquiry is in its final throws. As is the Building Safety Bill only weeks away from Royal Assent and Michael Gove has set out a 4-point plan.
- Opening the next phase of the Building Safety Fund. With government contributing £5.1 billion of funding on the highest risk properties.
- Those at fault will be held properly to account: a new team is being established to pursue and expose companies at fault, making them fix the buildings they built and face commercial consequences if they refuse.
- Restoring common sense to building assessments: indemnifying building assessors from being sued; and withdrawing the old, misinterpreted government advice that prompted too many buildings being declared as unsafe; and
- New protections for leaseholders living in their own flats: with no bills for fixing unsafe cladding and new statutory protections for leaseholders within the Building Safety Bill.
And to quote him
Housing Secretary Michael Gove is vowing to “expose and pursue” firms responsible for safety problems caused by cladding.
So, although Government have committed cash, they will be expecting the industry to make the biggest contribution to what the government believe is a problem of their making.
Dame Judith Hackett’s report clearly stated that a primary cause of the tragedy was the culture of the industry in which there was a rush to the bottom and regulations became the target standard rather than a minimum expectation.
Changing the culture
This conference was primarily about what actions could be taken to change the culture that had developed to a point where the industry put profits before people and quality had sunk to such levels that it endangered people’s lives. But government must take its share of the responsibility for ‘light touch’ ambiguous regulation over 30 years which has created a culture in the construction industry which resulted in Grenfell. A disaster waiting to happen
Two initiatives are already in place to drive the culture.
The Building Safety Charter. – its vision is an industry committed to putting people’s safety first.
The Building a Safer Future Charter consists of five commitments that demonstrate commitment to protecting life by putting safety first, ahead of all other building priorities.
It was developed by the Industry Early Adopters Group (referred to as Charter Founders) as a first step towards spearheading the cultural and behavioural changes required across the industry to achieve a safer building system.
I urge contractor members to sign up to this charter, if enough companies sign up to the charter this will demonstrate that our industry is committed to the change required to ensure that another Grenfell never happens and begin to regain the public trust we have lost since the disaster.
For more information follow the link. https://www.buildingasaferfuture.org.uk/what-is-the-charter/
The Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI).
CCPI. Material suppliers have a responsibility to ensure the information they provide is accurate and unambiguous. CCPI will help organisations drive higher standards in the presentation of construction product information, prioritising building safety.
Whether written in a brochure, a presentation, on a website or social media, the CCPI will seek to provide assurance that users of product information have the necessary facts when making decisions about specifying or installing their verified products.
Once again, I urge system designer and associate members who supply product into our industry to consider signing up to the code.
More information can be accessed by following the link. https://www.cpicode.org.uk/
It is only a matter of time before our clients begin demanding these initiatives and to start the process now will not only get you in front of the curve but send out a signal that your company puts integrity at the heart of its mission.
The Morning speakers were all heavy hitters with Dame Judith Hackitt opening by outlining how culture change was an essential element of fulfilling the recommendation set out in her report published almost 5 years ago and reinforced by Amanda Long Chief Executive, Building a Safer Future Charter, and Code for Construction Product Information. Amanda made the point that culture change was not a tick box exercise. That the changes need to run deep below the surface. Using the analogy of an iceberg ‘Surface Culture’ is what we can see and hear. It is what lies under the surface that is most important in changing attitudes and mindsets.
Both Dame Judith and Amanda were concerned that there had been an overreaction to her report where agencies and individuals were running scared or exploiting some of the outcomes of the report. With disproportionate solutions to safety issues resulting in lease holders trapped in unsaleable properties.
Lord Stephen Greenhalgan defended the government’s position by describing his own disappointing experience with domestic builders. He claimed that there had been a systemic failure of the industry. Contractors gaming the regulations for financial gain rather encompassing the spirit of them. Someone from the audience dared made a statement critical of the government and the comparisons he had made. Lord Greenhalgan made a robust defense stating governments of both persuasions had been remiss in allowing the deterioration in building safety over the last 30 years. He then proceeded to lay into the poor man. After which no one else in the room appeared to have the courage to challenge him. I must say he gave the impression his appointment was a poisoned chalice which did not bode well for what may be coming down the line for the industry from the department.
Peter Caplehorn -Chief Executive, Construction Products Association, Chair / British Standards Institute’s Strategic Committee for Construction / Co-Chair of CLC Building Safety. Claimed the industry had ‘’lost respect for what it was doing’’. We needed to move away from a blame culture to a partnership approach that will help clear up the legacy and protect the future. To rebuild trust and try to cement together what is a fragmented industry.
It should be accepted that we operate in a high hazard industry and lessons can be learnt from other high hazard industries such as the chemical industry and the oil and gas industry. These industries have experienced tragic disasters such as Piper Alpha and Bohpal. Speakers from these industries imparted their wisdom.
There was also a presentation on the New Building Safety Bill which will provide powers to a new Building Safety Regulator The regulator will have 3 main functions: 1. overseeing the safety and performance of buildings 2. helping and encouraging the built environment industry and building control professionals to improve their competence 3. leading implementation of the new regulatory framework for high-rise buildings HSE and the who will have wide reaching powers to investigate a prosecute. If safety was not an incentive enough to do the right thing for those that don’t will feel the full force of the law.
The conference was closed with an emotional address from Gus Carroll Chair, COMAH Strategic Forum / Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder, Empirisys. Who’s had been part of the board of a company that experienced a fatal disaster and will always be haunted by the fact of what more could have been done to prevent the tragedy.
No one goes to work wanting to do harm to others but by not putting safety first we run the risk of our actions or lack of them resulting in death or injury. We must take what has been learnt in our industries approach to health and safety and project this into the buildings we help to construct.
Insulated Render and Cladding Association (INCA)
The recognised trade association for the external wall insulation (EWI) industry in the UK.
Tel: 0330 124 6585 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org