Since Grenfell leaders of the construction industry have been working together to seek ways of preventing the failings that lead to such a tragic loss. Dame Judith Hackett's review was the cornerstone of this change speaking openly and honestly about the failings within the construction industry. Whilst there were a number of causes leading to the fateful incident, these items only served to highlight where the construction industry had failed to be proactive and accountable for its own progression.

We see now the proposals being set out into law that will lead to greater accountability for Clients, Designers and Contractors as well as all construction industry professionals. Competence of individuals is key to the proposals and many organisations are reviewing how competence can be demonstrated along with training and CPD requirements. These competence requirements will lead to accreditations for key roles providing justification of competence to work on high rise residential buildings. To back up the changes the HSE have formed the Building Safety Regulator role which will enforce accountability and the regulation across the industry from design down to maintenance. Since creation the HSE has driven improvements in H&S management across organisations in the workplace, this will be the first time that H&S has bridged the gap between work and a domestic setting in such a profound way.  

As a result of these changes project teams will no longer be able to fall back on existing regulation or standards, a conscious assessment and decision will need to have been made to support the design proposal and selection of a standard.  Project teams will need to pay more attention to design risks, taking more time to critically assess them, identify the risks and assign meaningful actions to address these risks. Not being able to simply rely on existing standards this process will likely be completed from a first principles perspective of risk management. All of this will be critical in demonstrating the Safety Case which will be a new statutory requirement to allow a project to pass through the new stage gates.    

Dame Judith Hackett was particularly critical of the construction industries lack of impetus to self regulate and drive continuous improvement. She draws on findings from reviews of other safety critical organisations such as rail and oil and gas. We are being told to prepare now for the changes that are coming and be prepared to not merely follow the rules and meet the minimum standard but to exceed them and demonstrate designs that go beyond the minimum requirements. Whilst the industry is still understanding what this means CIOB have recently announced a new certificate set to upskill those who manage fire safety in construction in response to the proposed changes set to commence in February 2021.  

The role of the principal designer will also be required to take greater ownership and accountability over the designs, along with increased competence requirements. From a personal perspective I have enjoyed the opportunity to drive better design risk management and champion the role of the principal designer. There is clear value in having someone accountable for these deliverables and to hold the design team to account, challenging the design decisions. The creation of the principal designer under the 2015 CDM regulations provided an opportunity for the industry to drive improvements in design and the management of H&S across the design of a project. Unfortunately this opportunity has not been seized with hugely varying results and opinions of the role. However, now is the time to seek out individuals who champion the role and take positive ownership for design risk management, learn from them and implement stronger processes as a first step towards the new regulation. In summary, change is coming. A culture change that will require all levels of the construction industry to step up, this should be happening now, in particular:

  • Clients should begin to look at their scopes of service and specifications to ensure the designers and principal designer appointments incorporate building safety requirements. Commercial evaluations must begin to evaluate the allowances and deliverables by organisations for design risk management and discharging of key duties. Clients should also review their procurement strategies and begin to review if their supply chain has the capability to deliver projects under this new framework.                                                                             
  •  Designers and Principal Designers should begin to review their own internal competence and asses if they have the skills, knowledge and experience to deliver residential projects or if additional resource is required. Internal procedures should be reviewed to being to embed more stringent design risk management.                                                                                                
  • More than ever, contractors must look at the role they play in design; they need to review their policies, procedures and supply chains to check there are processes in place for engaging with the principal designer role.