Grenfell is the building industry's Piper Alpha says CIBSE


The recent passage of the Building Safety Act is a welcome recognition of the fact that making safe buildings is a highly skilled operation says the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, endorsing the need for more effective regulation and a profound change in culture.

The most fundamental reform to Building Regulations for decades, the Act creates a new Building Safety Regulator and introduces a more rigorous regime for the planning, design, construction and operation of higher risk buildings.  In many cases, these changes have been needed for years.

It is a tragedy that it took an incident of the scale and horror of the Grenfell Tower fire to produce a fundamental re-evaluation of the industry, but if the sweeping reforms spelt out in the Act can change the culture of the industry, then some good will have been salvaged.

Firstly it is good to see the Act recognise that it takes qualified, competent people to design safe, properly engineered buildings and CIBSE welcomes the focus on competence, particularly of designers and contractors.

It sounds obvious. Of course, those responsible for designing and building a structure whose failure can cause a significant loss of life should be properly qualified. It is made clear in the Act that clients must satisfy themselves that those they employ are competent, individually and organisationally, to undertake the work that they are being appointed to do.

The Act is very likely to increase the focus on Engineering Council registration as evidence of knowledge, skills, experience and behaviour. We anticipate and welcome the introduction of mandatory CPD requirements and revalidation. Even for those members who are not registered with the Engineering Council, CPD will need to be taken more seriously.

The building control system will also be reformed under the Act. In addition, there will be stronger regulatory powers for construction products with the benefit of a new market surveillance and enforcement regime led by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS).

The new regime will be enforced by HSE and is backed by legal sanctions.

Regulation can provide only a basic safety net. In the end it is down to the industry to deliver higher quality outputs. The passage of the Building Safety Act marks a welcome beginning of the formal legislative reform of the building safety regime in England; this needs to be reflected in lasting cultural change in the construction industry.

Thirty years ago, the Piper Alpha disaster was the trigger for a radical cultural and safety reform in the offshore industry, the legacy of Grenfell must be that it is construction's Piper Alpha.

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