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April Overview – Alan Tate

To Hackitt and Beyond!

Andrew kindly asked me write the opening remarks to this month’s newsletter. Dame Judith Hackitt will be our keynote speaker at the Construction Summit on the 26 May 2021. As such, I thought it would be worth highlighting and encouraging everyone in the construction sector to read Building a Safer Future (Report). The Report focuses on the tragic events of Grenfell and it shines a spotlight on the construction sector which, for the most part (and based upon the evidence being given at the on-going enquiry) is still promoting a culture of ‘race to the bottom’ rather than facilitating good practice. In short, the Report states that the construction sector suffers from:

  • ignorance of the building regulations and guidance;
  • being motivated to do things cheaply and quickly;
  • a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities and a fragmentation and ambiguity around who is responsible; and
  • inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools.

As such, the Report suggest that we should think about building as a system and therefore recommends a new regulatory framework for high rise and complex buildings with a recommendation that the regulatory framework should be applied to other multi-occupancy buildings (such as student accommodation blocks or hotels). We know from experience, these processes (in whole or part) are likely to filter down to other types of buildings and projects.

The Report recommends a new ‘joint competent authority’ (JCA) which will consist of the Local Authority Building Standards (formally Building Control), the fire rescue authority and the Health and Safety Executive. The JCA will look at the building from a health and safety perspective from its inception, through construction and throughout its maintenance. The recommendations are based on a model of risk ownership, rather than risk transfer.

For those involved in the procurement of construction works, Chapter 9 of the Report reminds us that the procurement process kick-starts the behaviours of the project team members throughout the design, construction, occupation and maintenance of the building. The Report highlight examples of inadequate specification, a focus on low cost or an adversarial contracting system, all of which can make it difficult to produce a safe building. The Report states that best value is dependent on establishing a collaborative partnership with the client and the construction team. Also onerous payment and retention arrangements put a financial strain on the supply chain which can cause sub-contractors to substitute materials based on price rather than performance.

Those involved in Constructing Excellence will recognise the points made in Chapter 9 of the Report. The same points can be found in a number of earlier reports starting with Constructing the Team (1994) and Rethinking Construction (1998). In those reports, the emphasis was on the efficiency benefits of collaborative working. This Report has had to make the same points but unfortunately, this it is now in the context of the health and safety of the occupants of a residential building.

The Report suggests that the construction sector should learn from the good practices in other sectors such as the chemical industry and civil aviation sector where the need to protect and preserve safety performance is an integral part of contract negotiation and agreement. We all know of specific sectors of the construction industry where we have seen that safety is the overall priority. However, what is it that these other industries do, which we should be also doing? Perhaps we should find out.

It is hoped that the Building Safety Bill will come into force this year and in order to understand why this new piece of construction specific legislation is required, it is important to read this Report to appreciate why using a collaborative procurement model in construction will – or should be – the industry standard model so that each duty-holder under the new regime will be held accountable.  Like you, I will be looking forward to listening to Dame Judith Hackitt on the 26 May 2021.

Alan Tate  FCIOB, Partner – Michelmores LLP

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