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Dame Judith Hackitt states competence and accreditation is going to be a major safety feature of the future
Thursday 7th May 2020
Dame Judith Hackitt joined David Frise, Chief Executive - BESA, in the BESA Webinar (essential industry changes needed post-Grenfell) 07/05/2020.
In the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) Webinar (Thursday 07/05/2020), Dame Judith Hackitt discussed the current landscape whilst in the coronavirus pandemic.
Dame Judith noted the multiple areas that she considers a good regulatory system. She continued saying the system must be questioned with important elements such as “does this system work? Does it drive the right behaviours? Is there an effective regulator in place? Are there incentives and sanctions? Is it clear who’s responsible for what [and] who’s accountable? Is it coherent? Are there gaps? Are there ambiguities?” These are all things Dame Judith looked at during the review post-Grenfell.
“At the heart [of the report] was the need for a strong regulator who could operate a, what I call and what may know of as a, safety case regime that puts the onus on the Responsible Person at any particular point in a buildings life-cycle, to demonstrate that what is there is safe and fit for purpose… Clear responsibility [is] at the heart of this system.”
BAFE recently discussed “The onus of the Responsible Person” in the April edition of Fire Safety Matters (FSM) Magazine. http://archives.westernbusinesspublishing.co.uk/fsm/digital-archive/issues/2020/fsmapr20/page_41.html
Hackitt continued that there “is a need to strengthen guidance, but over time we also need to move to a position where guidance is owned more by industry – rather than industry waiting to be told what to do. [There is] a really important need to increase the levels of competence and oversight by the industry itself.”
Hackitt wants “clear accountabilities and responsibility” and a need for “the industry to recognise it needs to change its culture, stop waiting to be told what to do – take responsibility and recognise you have an important role to play in ensuring that people have properties that are safe for them to live in and to use.”
It was discussed that the insurance sector is now very alert and sensitive to fire safety issues. Hackitt states “it is only to be expected” that Professional Indemnity insurance going up. The way to put this right is to “regain [the insurance industry’s] confidence that the [entire construction and fire safety] industry is now doing the right thing.”
Covid-19 has demonstrated to Hackitt that the industry is “capable of massive change, at pace, when we need to do so.” BAFE note this could develop a change in some of the Third Party Certification auditing culture when returning to work in a more conventional way. At present during the pandemic, some Third Party Certification audits are being performed remotely where at all possible. Some audits will not be however, and a possible balance could be struck here to benefit the fire safety industry.
Current buildings will be under scrutiny moving forward and the fire safety industry should be working to best practice and appropriate standards to ensure their work is deemed suitable in the interest of life safety. Previous work should also be reviewed and maintained regularly, advising the premises management of this. Hackitt explained:
“The new safety case regime, when it is introduced by the new regulator, will apply not only to new buildings, but to buildings that are already in use and occupied. If those buildings were built to poor standards in the past, it will not be the case that you can simply say ‘well it complied with building regulations at the time’. The test will be different, the test will be ‘is this building safe to be occupied?’ and if not, what are you going to do to improve it? … People will be asked to think about what they can do, what is reasonable, what is practicable to do to improve the safety of the building.”
David Frise, Chief Executive – BESA, questioned Dame Judith about the cladding issue and the focus on this by Government and the media, he asked “do you think this has detracted from the bigger problem of fire safety within a very large proportion of the built environment?”
Dame Judith agreed and noted that she was targeted by the press for not focussing on cladding specifically. She added “events since then have clearly demonstrated this issue goes way beyond just the issue of cladding… Even if we had replaced all the cladding on all of the high rise buildings, would those buildings now be safe for people to live in? No, they would be safer, but there would still be other issues that we had not addressed and next time the tragedy may not be one associated with cladding. We’ve really got to get our minds around how do we make buildings safe to live in.”
Earlier in Hackitt’s webinar she said: “Building owners, occupiers, and financiers are going to demand proof of quality and competence in the future. This really is, I believe, a once in a generation opportunity to let go of that race to the bottom that we’ve seen over the last twenty years or so and really turn this industry (and the state of our high rise housing stock) around”.
Dame Judith Hackitt and David Frise later continued to discuss the culture of keeping a body of evidence. Dame Judith noted the historical clerk of works method may appear antiquated and not be the best approach. This must be updated for the 21st Century with the digitalisation of information. What is important however is sharing the information with residents of the building. Dame Judith commented “clearly it would not be appropriate to simply tell a resident that there is a BIM model and that they can look at it if he wants to, that’s not helpful. The information has got to be provided in a way that’s meaningful for the audience, whoever that audience may be.”
The safety case “will be another way of communicating information. You’ll have to create a document to convince the building safety regular that the building is safe to be operated and occupied.” She stressed the importance of this document in the future.
A quick poll undertaken during the webinar resulted with only 18% confirming at present they were having to prove compliance to the current Building Safety Regulations all the time. Under the new culture implemented from Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations, this should see a dramatic shift in documenting evidence of compliance.
BAFE believes that works completed by Third Party Certificated fire safety service providers will be key moving forward in demonstrating competent fire safety work has been performed as specified. Later in the webinar, Dame Judith also stated: “part of the issue here is around people understanding what is critical, and what is safety critical, and that’s why we spoke so much in the report about the need for people to be competent… I also believe that quite a lot of what goes on in this sector happens because people don’t understand the importance of some of the features in a building, and why it’s important – not just that they are properly specified, but that they’re properly installed. [For example] sprinklers are no good at all if they are not properly installed and they’re not tested – they will fail at the wrong time, when you absolutely need them… People need to understand not just what’s important, but how do you ensure that they stay working throughout the life of the building.”
The argument for evidential competency (such as Third Party Certification) will become a much stronger requirement. Dame Judith said competency schemes “absolutely” have a future.
“If you move to a future world where the regulator is going to say, ‘prove to me that this is going to be a safe building’ - the question they will ask is ‘how will you ensure that this is the case?’ The Duty Holder, whether that’s the client, the major contractor, whoever it is, will need be in a position to say ‘because I am employing competent people to do this job, and here is the evidence that I am employing competent people to do this job. There is no doubt at all that competence and accreditation is going to be a major feature of the future.”
Dame Judith is optimistic about the upcoming shift in culture. “We have to be. What I have encountered in the last three years is a real groundswell of opinion that this has to change, and it has to change for the better… We are going to get it done.” David Frise concluded the webinar by reiterating Dame Judith’s earlier comment that this “is a once in a generation opportunity”.
BAFE Chief Executive, Stephen Adams, comments: “Hearing Dame Judith’s reaffirmation of competency, and evidence of said competency, in this webinar is excellent. BAFE have been championing UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification for over 30 years with the support of many other professional bodies. The time is right to mandate this to help better regulate the fire safety industry to change end user behaviour and create a safer UK from fire.”
BAFE believe that when lockdown measures begin to be lifted that there will be a need for competent maintenance of fire safety systems/provisions and fire risk assessment work. The last thing anyone wants is any business to be stricken by fire. Make sure you specify and verify competent, third party certificated companies to help fulfil your fire safety responsibilities.
Source: BESA Webinar Thursday 7 May - Dame Judith Hackitt talking about the essential industry changes needed post-Grenfell. A recording of the webinar and slides are available at: https://www.thebesa.com/covid19/covid-19-webinars/covid-19-webinars-may/
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