‘Pragmatic and common sense’: the CDM perspective on Hackitt
Health and safety professionals across construction should welcome the Hackitt report – but there are a few reservations about how it will be implemented, says Martin Cox.
The final report from Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review into Building Regulations and fire safety, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, should be welcomed by construction health and safety professionals.
The Hackitt review flags up the need for a set of “rigorous and demanding” duty holder roles and responsibilities to ensure a stronger focus on building safety, broadly aligned with those set out in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, fire safety legislation and Building Regulations.
Based on recent experience, the CDM 2015 regulations have been compromised by confusion over technology, lack of knowledge of the regulations in the construction industry and, most importantly, an ignorance of those regulations by stakeholders.
The Hackitt recommendations are a pragmatic and common sense approach to combating an insidious culture that has been gradually creeping into construction – saving money at all costs, with safety taking a backseat.
For example, the recommendations refer to 10-storey and above buildings rather than buildings over 30m as in the Building Regulations. Recently there has been a tendency for architects to design buildings to 29.5m to avoid the need for sprinklers. Hackitt takes the equivocation out of the wording.
The recommendation for the setting up of the joint competent authority (JCA), involving outside authorities like the fire service, local authorities and building control is also a good move – but do these organisations have the capacity to fulfil this role?
They would need funding for new recruits to those posts with sufficient cross-training. One potential offshoot of the JCA is a fire safety rating scheme on buildings similar to food hygiene ratings for restaurants.
“While thorough investigations are always sensible, quicker sentencing would provide a deterrent for others, and closure for everyone else impacted by the incident.”
The setting up of a database for systems and materials is an excellent recommendation because currently it is difficult to ascertain whether one is using a suitable product. The manufacturers’ recommendations are often in the small print, if at all. An easily searchable database would bring much-needed clarity to the specification process.
However, there are a few caveats. The proposed new regulatory framework must have teeth – which means better policing will be required. The report recommends increasing the time for cases going to court up to five or six years – which seems far too long.
While thorough investigations are always sensible, quicker sentencing would provide a deterrent to others, and closure for everyone else impacted by the incident.
The recommendations will require a gelling of competences. Currently a construction project will normally have a project manager, an architect, a quantity surveyor and a structural engineer, plus other roles. Many of these professionals operate in their own specialist area, but the Hackitt recommendations require an understanding of how all these competencies meld together.
Combining these areas of knowledge into one set of safety requirements will require professional knowledge across the CDM spectrum. There is no standardised accreditation for this process.
If and when Hackitt’s recommendations are enacted, the legislation needs to be written by informed professionals and not rushed through like CDM 2015. These are due for review in 2020, therefore there is ample time for a period of consultation and implementation which will encompass all the recommendations of the report, providing clear advice and guidance in one place.
Overall, the Hackitt report is well written and – if implemented – will position UK plc as a world leader in construction design management, particularly regarding fire safety. The tragedy is that it has taken the Grenfell tragedy to move our regulatory system in the right direction.
Martin Cox is head of health and safety and CDM at Pellings