Dame Judith Hackitt criticises safety cost ‘fears’

Dame Judith Hackitt criticises safety cost ‘fears’

AT A meeting to discuss the recent Raising the Bar report in London, Dame Judith ‘slammed’ construction industry members who ‘worried more about the cost’ of a building safety regime.

Building reported on an interview with Dame Judith at an Industry Regulatory Group (IRG) conference in London, which discussed recommendations in the recent report. The Competence and Steering Group (CSG) summary and reports from working groups created after the Hackitt Review includes ‘sweeping proposals to raise competence and make buildings safer’.

Last month, the report - out for consultation – was released by the Construction Industry Council (CIC), which noted that the ‘radical and wide-ranging’ measures aim to improve competence in design, construction, inspection, maintenance and operation of high risk residential buildings (HRRBs). The cross industry group has been backed by the government as well as the Industry Safety Steering Group and Dame Judith.

The CSG – set up by the IRG to ‘tackle competency failings’ identified by Dame Judith – brought together over 150 institutions and associations across the ‘full spectrum’ of construction, the built environment, fire safety and the building owner and management sectors, with all working ‘towards the common purpose of raising competences to improve life safety’.

This report urged that ‘all life-safety-critical’ disciplines working on HRRBs – including designers, engineers, building standards officers, site supervisors, fire safety enforcement officers and fire risk officials – ‘adopt the measures’, and has called on the government to ‘play its part’ by requiring that any company or individual working on a central government construction project ‘must meet the competence frameworks set out’.

Such projects include retrofitting existing HRRBs, with local authorities and the wider public and private sectors ‘also being urged to follow suit’. Dame Judith had identified a ‘lack of consistency and rigour’ in processes and standards for assuring skills, knowledge and behaviour of individuals and organisations working on HRRBs, concluding this was a ‘major flaw’ in the current regulatory system.

The report also called for a new oversight body – the Building Safety Competence Committee (BSCC) – to monitor assessment processes, ‘draw up’ a central dutyholder register of those eligible to work on HRRBs, and to ‘continually drive improvements’. Dame Judith noted that she had heard – at the IRG meeting – a delegate asking whether ‘the size of the regulatory burden was worth the benefit?’

She ‘wondered “how can you ask such a thing?” This is about the industry getting to where it should have been, not about whether the cost is worth the candle. This is about a big culture change that absolutely must happen’, and also said that introducing any new competency system must be a ‘phased’ process, with HRRBs ‘taking priority’.

Dame Judith added: ‘The biggest risk is the scope question, because the bigger the scope the more challenging it will be to implement this. That is not to say that over time I would not want to see good practice filter down to every single aspect of all buildings, [but] this is a culture change that should start with the highest hazards and risks – HRRBs.’

While the system would eventually have to cover other different buildings, she noted that ‘I think we have to recognise that this is a project to be managed and that you have to do it in a number of stages. Let’s get it right, and let’s get it working on the most important and highest risks first, and then extend it’.

Dame Judith called sector progress ‘encouraging’ but warned that the construction industry was still ‘not moving fast enough’, and that a ‘widespread culture of indifference and ignorance’ in some areas of the sector persisted, with ‘no real sense about what matters’, while some had wanted to ‘just finish the job and not care about the quality aspect’.

BSI standards director Scott Steedman had earlier argued for a ‘top down as well as bottom up’ approach to competency, and told the conference that senior leaders within construction needed to be ‘visible and on board with the competence environment, driving improvements and challenging reports’. Dame Judith agreed, and ‘expressed disappointment’ that the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) ‘had not engaged more’ with the CSG working groups.

Noting that ‘surely it makes sense for this to be an industry-wide process’, she said that the CITB ‘should be a part of that’, and criticised attempts to ‘dilute’ the role of the building safety manager into a safety coordinator role. Delivering the new competency environment would be ‘harder than what you’ve done so far’, she told delegates’, urging them to ‘hold on to why you are doing this. The industry has to change and it has to deliver. Many people out there need to know that we are doing all we can to make their homes safer’.

The consultation closes on 18 October, and the final document is expected by the end of 2019 or in early 2020.