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RCI Feb 2018

RCI TECHNICAL NOTE NUMBER 250 The divergence of practice 020 FEBRUARY 2018 RCIMAG.COM and regulation The interim report on the review of building regulations, following the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, was published at the end of last year. In this RCI Technical Note, Keith Roberts looks at the findings of the report, and explains where he believes the industry can improve Following the fire in Grenfell Tower, the government commissioned a review of the Building Regulations and fire safety in July 2017. This review is led by Dame Judith Hackitt and is running in parallel with the work of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Following discussions with more than 300 people, an interim report was published in December 2017, sharing the findings so far and giving the proposed direction of travel for the final report to be published in spring this year. The key recommendations from the 121-page report are: 1. Current Building Regulations and guidance is too complex and unclear This has led to confusion and misinterpretation, particularly when applied to high-rise buildings. The approved documents are not produced in a user-friendly format. As they are in separate sections, there is no easy means for the various specifications to be integrated into a single compliant document. Key definitions are unclear. 2. Clarity of roles and responsibilities in the construction industry is poor There is no requirement for identifiable named duty holders responsible for ensuring and proving compliance with the Building Regulations. Even where there are requirements for key activities to take place, it is not always clear who has responsibility for making these happen. There is a widespread culture of waiting to be told what to do by regulators, rather than taking responsibility for building to the correct standards. 3. Means of assessing and ensuring levels of competence are unclear and inadequate The competence of those involved in the design, construction and maintenance of complex and high-risk buildings has been called into question. There is no consistent way to assess or verify their competence, with no statutory registration or accreditation requirements. The Construction Industry Council has identified that only 50 fire engineers are qualified to advise on high-rise buildings in the whole of the UK. This is one area where England and Wales appears to be lagging behind many other parts of the world that require key personnel to be trained, assessed and, in many cases, licenced to carry out specific roles. 4. Enforcement and sanction measures are poor There is widespread deviation from what is originally designed to what is actually built. The current trend for design and build contracts has been identified as being particularly problematic. Private sector approved inspectors have no means of enforcement action available to them other than to refer cases to Local Authority Building Control officers. In turn, they are deterred from taking formal enforcement due to the cost of pursuing cases through the courts. Enforcement and sanction measures do not provide adequate means of compliance assurance, deterrents or redress for non-compliance. 5. Scope for residents’ concerns to be raised and addressed is unclear and inadequate There is a wide variation in practice by landlords from the very good to non-existent. Regulators often face problems in getting concerns and defects addressed following investigation. 6. Product testing and quality assurance are unclear Products are marketed with specification data presented in ways which can easily be misinterpreted. Individual elements are being used as part of compound systems, but are not being fully tested as systems. Concerns have been raised that test conditions used do not adequately reflect real-life conditions. The integrity and efficacy of product and system classifications are highly dependent on correct installation by competent and knowledgeable persons. 7. Lessons to be learned and applied from other international regulatory regimes Fires in high-rise buildings have occurred in other countries. Some countries now have more stringent standards for fire protection and require key roles within the system to be formally licenced. 8. Greater alignment of the regulatory regime for buildings The Construction Design and Management Regulations have been referred to as a good example of bringing greater clarity and effectiveness of health and safety legislation in the UK. This is due to clearer assignment of roles and responsibilities. In future, the same clarity will be sought for the Building Regulations. Phase two of the Hackitt Review The review’s findings to date indicate that there is a clear need for a full overhaul of the regulatory system. This is to be examined in the next stage of the review with firm actions recommended. These recommendations are likely to include the need for regulations and guidance to be simplified and unambiguous. Primary responsibility for ensuring that buildings are fit for purpose must rest with those who commission, design and build the project. Formal accreditation systems should be introduced for all those involved in the fire prevention aspects of the design, construction, inspection and maintenance of high-rise and complex buildings. A stronger enforcement regime is required, backed up with powerful sanctions for those who do not follow the rules. “A stronger enforcement regime is required, backed up with powerful sanctions” Conclusions The overall conclusion of the report is that the current regulatory system is not fit for purpose in relation to high-rise and complex buildings. There is a need for significant improvements identifying roles and responsibilities, improving competence, compliance and ultimately enforcement. Those of us who approach the end of our careers have observed how overall standards of technical competence and working knowledge of British standards and regulations have declined. Over the same period, the roles of the Building Control officer and the clerk of works have diminished, whilst attempting to work with more complex regulatory documents. We have observed and often commented on this ‘divergence of practice and regulation’. One of the challenges for the year ahead is to try and close this widening gap. Keith Roberts, who compiled this Technical Note, is an independent roofing consultant. You can contact him at: Roberts Consulting 2 Gardiner Close, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 3YA Tel: 01235 529 693 www.robertsconsulting.co.uk


RCI Feb 2018
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