It has taken a tragedy to wake everyone up to the need for change in construction industry culture, according to Dame Judith Hackitt, author of ‘Building a Safer Future’ report commissioned post-Grenfell.
Addressing the annual Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) conference in Kenilworth, Dame Hackitt said, “People are looking for quick fixes but they need to understand that root and branch reform is required. This has to be a turning point to bring about the culture change we need.”
She spoke about the fact that we need to change the way we think and act as an industry but stressed her belief that this is achievable. She referred to a time when construction health and safety was seen as a difficult problem to crack. Yet, over the past 15 years, health and safety has taken huge strides with lower levels of fatalities and much improved standards that are industry wide and adhered to by everyone. The industry now needs to do the same again in the delivery of buildings that are fit for purpose.
Continuing, she also drew conclusions about how safety can help to drive a wider industry change in terms of how we design, build and the legacy we leave behind. “Currently construction safety is focused on the workforce but we need to also consider residents and the public. We need to think about buildings not as jigsaw puzzles that magically come together, they need to be treated as a complex system – a change in one small thing can have massive changes and impact integrity of the buildings.”
Driving out value engineering
Part of this change will be in driving out value engineering – a phrase that Dame Judith claims she would be “happy to never hear again. It is anything but value, it is cutting costs and quality.”
Coupled to this is the need for industry to stop working in silo – we all need to work together. Dame Judith commented, “The structure of industry has to change to make it more effective. We need to put a focus on the way in which buildings are procured. If we have a process that makes people bid at a cost they can’t afford to deliver at, we set ourselves up to fail.”
She concluded by talking about the race to the bottom and the lack of focus the sector has in “delivering safe homes for people to live in, as well as the fundamental flaws in design and build contracts that sees undocumented projects handed over to clients.”
She also spoke at length about how the issue of competency has to be addressed. Acknowledging the fact that that there are many competency schemes currently in operation she stated that, “We have many people working at different levels. We need to understand these levels and people need to know what is expected from them and we need to make sure those who are not fully compliant are properly supervised.”
A key part of her speech clarified the role of the Approved Inspector, something key to CABE’s membership. Dame Judith said: “There is no reason why Approved Inspectors can’t be part of the Joint Competent Authority, there just can’t be a conflict of interest. You can do both roles, just not on the same project.”
CABE has a diverse membership of design, construction, evaluation and maintenance professionals. This year’s conference discussed pathways to excellence and how building engineers can help the sector deliver more than simple compliance.