Sector ‘not ready’ to prove post-Grenfell competence, key body warns

The construction sector is still not ready for some of the significant changes emerging from the Building Safety Act, a major report has concluded.

These include companies being able to demonstrate the competence of their workforce and being able to show that no one on their job is working beyond their competence.

Cross-industry body the Competence Steering Group (CSG) made the statement in a report called A Higher Bar.

It says: “It is recognised by the CSG that the sector is not ready for the significant changes, and continued support will be needed.”

Other legal changes include dealing with the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) and National Regulator for Construction Products, as well as the requirement to ensure clients are aware of their duties before any work starts.

The CSG was formed five years ago as part of the industry’s response to the Hackitt Review following the Grenfell Tower fire, and it will now become part of the BSR’s industry competence committee – created under the Building Safety Act to monitor and advise both the regulator and sector on competence.

The CSG will be renamed the Industry Competence Steering Committee as a result.

Hanna Clarke, digital and policy manager at the Construction Products Association, has become its new chair, taking over from Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts.

Clarke said the group would work to increase its visibility and engagement with the industry.

“The new relationship with the Industry Competence Committee and the Building Safety Regulator will provide an excellent opportunity for the group to test its work against critical friends,” she added.

While the exact terms of reference for the new group are yet to have been agreed by the Industry Competence Committee, A Higher Bar sets out a number of other challenges for ensuring competence is strong throughout the sector.

Thirteen working groups were set up under the CSG to focus on different parts of the built environment (see box below). However, all but one – fire-safety regulators – still need a means to test and award qualifications for competence to be set up.

A number of new BSI standards and Publicly Available Specifications (PAS) have been devised by the CSG across a range of areas.

But the report notes: “There is also an acknowledgement that the task is far from complete. Where frameworks have been developed there is still a huge task of implementation, the iterative learning and cross-collaboration of the CSG is still in progress, and there remain areas of the industry that need to be addressed.”

In a section on the PAS for site supervisors, it adds: “There is still a lack of knowledge of the need to have competent individuals at all levels and types of construction. Professional and trade bodies who represent construction managers and site supervisors can and should take a lead in this.”

The PAS to devise a process for independently assessing construction work is still awaiting funding, though a free technical document called A Guide to Managing Safety Critical Elements in Building Construction has been produced.

Industry Competence Committee chair Jon Vanstone said the report “sets a new benchmark in competence for the construction industry, aligning with the critical directives of the Hackitt Review and the Building Safety Act”.

He added: “We are at a transformative juncture, and A Higher Bar is a blueprint for a safer and more responsible future in building practices.”

Watts said: “There is still a long way to go. As we move into the implementation phase it is incumbent on those working in all professions and trades in life-critical disciplines to attain these higher levels of competence.

“Only then can we rebuild the trust of those who occupy and live in the buildings we design, construct and manage.”

Full list of CSG working groups

  • Overarching competence body (WG0)
  • Engineers (WG1)
  • Installers (WG2)
  • Fire engineers (WG3)
  • Fire risk assessors (WG4)
  • Fire safety enforcing officers (WG5)
  • Building standards professionals (WG6)
  • Building designers, including architects (WG7)
  • Building safety managers (WG8)
  • Site supervisors (WG9)
  • Project managers (WG10)
  • Procurement professionals (WG11)
  • Products (WG12)

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