Post-Grenfell report slams Building Regs

18 December 2017

The leader of the independent review into building and fire safety regulations, commissioned after June’s Grenfell fire, has criticised the “complexity” of the system.

Dame Judith Hackitt will present her interim findings to MPs in Westminster later today.

“The regulations themselves are pretty simple but what sits below the Building Regulations is a whole series of guidance documents which stacked on top of one another would be about 2ft high,” she told BBC Radio 4 this morning.

“When regulations are complex it makes it quite difficult for people to penetrate that complexity to truly understand what they are required to do.

“There is clearly an opportunity to make that much simpler and to guide people to the right answer, rather than presenting them with all that information.”

Hackitt also called for a “culture change” and a commitment to “making buildings safer” instead of “simply doing things at least cost”.

She added: “There are issues of competence to be addressed as part of this.”

Hackitt said she had talked to more than 300 people so far during the review, which followed June’s Grenfell Tower fire, in which 71 people were killed.

She said: “Overwhelmingly the view that has been expressed to me is that this system needs improving, and it needs greater clarity, and I’m hopeful that’s what I’m going to bring to the system.

“The quicker we can get some [improvements] in place, the sooner we can build that level of reassurance that residents of high-rise buildings absolutely deserve.”

Hackitt also called for buildings to be managed properly through their “full life-cycle”, so any alterations do not threaten the occupants’ safety.

“If you get it right first, that’s a good start, but even then you have to have good systems in place to ensure change is managed properly,” she said.

The final report following Hackitt’s review of the Building Regulations and fire safety is due to be published next spring. 

The review’s two key priorities are “to develop a more robust regulatory system for the future and provide further assurance to residents that the buildings they live in are safe and remain safe”, the government said.


The International Building Code as adopted in many countries as well as the US, also relies on an extensive suite of standards but implementing the Code does not require deep understanding of them in order to interpret and apply it to building design and specification.
An interesting exercise would be to 'test' Grenfell against a recent iteration of the International Building Code. I suspect that its design may not have made it past IBC compliance on both firestopping and egress compliance requirements...

Andrew Gibb FCIOB, 18 December 2017

finally someone is addressing this situation, we are a leading supplier to the cladding industry, reading through Document B is painful it is contradictive and full of holes and hardly surprising that companies are getting cheap none fit for purpose products through building control - the majority of their employees themselves need educating.

john simmons, 18 December 2017

Apart from the Building Regs. being a minefied to comprehend, there has been systemic failure in lax Contractor’s supervision, a lack of Clerks of Works & the granting of Completion Certificates by the LA Building Control, Insurance Co. or the likes of NHBC. This unfortunately has been an accident waiting to happen, generally due to a supervision malaise & of cost cutting. Until the Regs. are simplified to avoid ambiguity & supervision by all parties involved in the construction process is made more robust & accountable, nothing will change. Is the UK alone in this failure?

RichardbMoore. MCIOB, 18 December 2017

(Hackitt also called for a “culture change” and a commitment to “making buildings safer” instead of “simply doing things at least cost”. System needs improving, and it needs greater clarity). How many decades will those statements be punted? Never mind the fact that building regulation documents would reach 2ft the important fact is materials that are unfit for purpose should be banned and that is the crux of the problem. They were never banned by the government.

Sheila, 18 December 2017

I agree with many of the above comments but the Building Regs have been in place for years and many of us have worked with them quite successfully - we have to or the local Building Control Depts at each Local Authority do not sign off the project and the building cannot be occupied, etc. Where has this gone wrong ?? Someone must be responsible to ensure that the work was carried out in accordance with the Building Regs and if this is not the case who signed it off? That is the person(s) that need bringing to the front of this investigation to answer for their failings. I would also like to suggest that Construction Professionals are brought in to get to the bottom of this problem not just government people with little or no construction experience. This will drag on for years if we are not careful and the poor victims will never get an answer

Roger Passfield, 18 December 2017

It’s not rocket science to test materials either in a University i.e. Oxford Brookes centre for the building envelope or the BRE.
The cost is not the issue it’s the design that has to be right.
Question is what influences apply i.e. from manufacturers, who invest in factories and distribution, Poorly trained local authorities, non compliant or outdated regulations.
Basically why are we using plastic combustable materials in buildings at all???

There is also an issue of building and tenant management to address. Were electrical items fully tested regularly?

Steve Townsend, 18 December 2017

It does not matter what the Building Regulations say, if the contractors ignore them and there are no policeman to enforce. I live in a fairly new apartment and the soundproofing is non existent. I complained to the council. They said "we delegated the checking to the NHBC". I complained to the NHBC and they said "we only look at foundations". I have since written 18 other complaint letters, the last one to MP who again told me to complain to somebody else.

colin smith, 18 December 2017

As the Head of Building Control in an inner London Borough for many years, witnessing the change from prescriptive to performance based Building Regulations, I actively pursued the adoption of fire safety approaches within the industry. By engaging with experts on the national and international scene I could actively analyse the fire risks involved in large buildings. On occasions some approaches were not accepted, in others developed and improved; I was fortunate. Unfortunately local Authority Building Control, then and probably now, do not have the resources and expertise due to the dilution of their roles by their employers, to undertake full analysis of schemes and suitability of the component parts of a project. Just like Ronan Point, Grenfell was a disaster waiting to happen.

Eur Ing Robert Jones CEng FIStructE, 18 December 2017

A culture change has been long overdue. Take your pick from almost any aspect of the industry or any decade, Bonfield, Farmer, Latham, Egan, Barker, ......

If you want people to change their behaviour first train them properly, then licence them and finally reward them for getting it right or punish them for getting it wrong. It isn't a difficult concept to introduce. Ceaser managed it 2000 years ago and Rome is still standing (although this brings in another issue - it wasn't built in a day as is demanded of too many of our projects).

HSE. 'Health and safety statistics for the construction sector in Great Britain, 2017'. Since 1990 fatalities are down by 80%.

Road safety; The UK is good at this too, people come from all over the world to see how we have reduced the fatalities on our roads. Reduced by 75% compared to 1966 (pity about the national football team over the same period)

Then look at construction: poor training, poor workmanship, poor working conditions, poor supervision, poor quality control, poor levels of pay, poor levels of job security, insufficient profit to generate innovation, insufficient profit to ensure stability, insufficient value in the supply chain generally.

Although money is not a problem certain housebuilders seem to be facing; plenty of money to share there.

Stuart, 18 December 2017

Although the building regs are being criticised, where are the follow up regulations which were recommended following the fire in 2009 which killed 6 people. It was recommended then that sprinkler systems should be fitted into high rise dwelling. The government should also be slated for not following up. It takes a tragedy for things to change. In the meantime who is paying for all these changes with the constant cost cutting being forced on local authorities?

Mark, 18 December 2017

I agree wholeheartedly with Hackitt’s comments, Part B is badly in need of some editorial attention and the layout of it is poor with constant references to tables and diagrams scattered throughout it not to mention the reliance on referring one onwards to esoteric BS's and other legislation. In essence, a user friendly document would help tremendously and narrow down the vast differences of opinion in interpretation between Building Control professionals themselves. I also believe that when it comes to issues of life safety the clients should realise that cost cutting is just not an option with Fire safety. The previous comments by Mr Passfield regarding scapegoating the last guy who went round the project are in my opinion unhelpful as it may be the case that works which were wrong were covered up months before the final completion so how would that individual know? Obviously this person does not work within Building Control as we only see a fraction of the works, we are not Clerk of Works on site all day! Surely, it is a collective responsibility with the contractor and subbies and other parties on site that need a more professional, moral and less profit-minded attitude rather than as Hackitt says, passing the buck around when things go wrong.
Jason Wynne MCABE

Jason Wynne, 18 December 2017

The demise of the clerk of work role, self certification, cost v quality, dumbing down of building surveyors’ roles in preference to project managers, lack of adherence to the original concept of the CDM regulations and government policy are all to blame for Grenfell & Lakanal and countless other tragedies waiting to happen. It should be remembered that Grenfell led to a huge amount of remedial work at other blocks as did Lakanal. The role of the fire risk assessors and stricter consideration of the Regulatory Reform (fire safety) Order also needs to be enforced and appreciated.
Yes the Building Regulations need reform but should not be done in isolation.

Byron Bayley, 18 December 2017

Almost all of the above sidesteps the issue; I have been responsible for fire and life safety tests on the world’s tallest buildings in recent years. They pass the mandatory tests and that is all that is required. To say that all is well once we pass the tests on handover is not correct as we know from the recent events.
Imagine if we were sold a car that had only safety tests and certificates on the internal fabric, that would be unacceptable, right?

Thomas Power, 18 December 2017

It comes down to a one word answer - Cost

Richard Smith, 18 December 2017

Surely the Building Regulations being signed off by the controlling body or agency at the time of their appropriateness would be sufficient? In doing so the designer and constructor would be shown as being compliant, so I trust this is to be also examined. Being too complex in their nature is one view but if this was the case what records to Government exist from any challenges by the design, construction or Building Control sectors?
If the materials are proven unfit for purpose despite performance Fire Rating classification, why sign these off also? A complex issue but as pointed out don’t let this matter be protracted for the victims’ sake.

Stephen Parker , 18 December 2017

My experience is in other than residential but I have been alarmed by 3rd party building control often outside on D&B projects the design team and "controlled" by the contractor. The lack of fire brigade involvement/sign off and on a recent project the contractor removed staircases on basis of opinion of 3rd party building control not a view shared by the fire brigade who were powerless as a grey area . Government hypocrisy about sprinklers is unbelievable, they have in schools stated sprinklers should be installed but they do not fund as the insurance industry does not share their view !

Kevin Jones , 19 December 2017

The more 'Regulations' we are bombarded with, the more difficult it becomes to arrive at a correct interpretation of all such Regulations for any given area of construction. Reading through the current Approved Document 'B' of the Building Regulations, let alone fully understanding many parts of it, is a minefield in itself. At the outset of my architectural career in 1956 the only guidelines we were required to follow, prior to the introduction of the initial Building Regulations documents, were contained in a single booklet of 'Building Byelaws'. Believe it or not, the buildings erected in accordance with my designs from those early days of my career and built in compliance with those Byelaws are still standing some 60 years later.

Richard Cowling MCIAT (Rtd), 19 December 2017

I'm surprised that the government and Industry are in a state of shock over the inadequacies of standards and quality control in the systems and materials used in the construction of buildings. Unfortunately it seems a tragedy such as Grenfell has to happen before people wake up and take notice of poor systems and unacceptable cultures that gradually develop over time and eventually become the accepted norm.
Over the years with the rapid development of technology and the desire to build quicker and the increase in specialist management consultants and subcontractors the site managers and supervisors lack ownership of the process. These issues have to be looked at as a whole, starting from the expectations of parents and what they want their children to do as a future career; the way training is offered for construction personnel and in particular site supervision.
All construction personnel need to have a better understanding of the process and the materials and components used to achieve the finished article. There needs to be a more understanding at the local level when approving plans and whether the buildings constructed meet the specified requirements.
There has been tremendous pressure from successive governments to build an unrealistic number of residential dwellings, without any consideration of the capacity of the industry to deliver. The few large contractors answered the call, not considering training local trades, but importing foreign workers as an easy and less expensive option.
The industry has always been poor at training, even with the CITB which in many ways has been ineffective. Wake up UK and start training young people for the future, who understand the construction process and can ensure quality as well as quantity is achieved in all aspects of construction.

Paul Constable, 19 December 2017

In 50 Years of constructing, I have seen so many improvements, many in site welfare in health and in safety. Innovations in regulation, methods, tools, work platforms, lifting and other equipment now mean construction workers live and work longer with less skeletal and hearing injuries. We have successfully changed the industry mindset by regulation and enforcement affecting every business on a relatively level tender playing field. We must now do the same to protect the industry's end users, through a change of culture in construction - to always do the right thing with serious penalties for failing.

Buildings are by necessity durable assets that retain value, they must be safe to occupy but remain adaptable over time for a long and purposeful life. Innovations disrupt certainty of outcome so performance testing before use, correct specification and adequately monitored installation are essential.

UK construction demand is driven by UK and global economics as well as politics. Stable demand allows us to train and retain competent workers and their knowledge, but remember that there is a long training trail time. In times of economic tightness, price competition drives participants to innovate, adapt specifications and effect cost savings with potential for reducing the safe outcome for building users. Such economic change impacts trained labour demand with shortage in upturns and experience wastage in downturns, leavers rarely return. Economic pressure combined with a lack of knowlegable staff in upturns can result in construction errors such as this dreadful Grenfell cladding issue.

The industry craves stability, but to cope it may have to invest in offsite production factories with high standards to improve things.

Hugh Barnard BSc MBA FCIOB, 19 December 2017

Having read the interim report and listened to Dame Judith’s presentation to the APPG I couldn't agree more with her critique of the regulations, the regulatory system and the culture within the industry. I look forward to the next stage of the review and to her recommendations in the Spring. However, I have to agree that the ambiguity of the guidance and its overly complex nature, not only in the delivery of fire safe buildings but also many other elements of the design and construction of buildings is long overdue a refresh/overhaul. The apparent lack of independence of enforcers, many of whom appear to market services on a pseudo design basis to assist in delivering value engineering (cost savings) as opposed to being outside the design team looking in and offering wholly impartial and objective advice, has become a worrying trend. The control over projects by contractors and the now systemic use of D&B delivery, which in reality is B&D, where there is little, if any, effective scrutiny of products and solutions and where its relatively easy to substitute materials without regard to the impact is disturbing. The warning signs were there before Grenfell and nothing was done. Industry alarms were not given and many manufacturers appear to have taken advantage of a system of testing that suited a particular outcome, given the language used in both the current and past iterations of Part B. I sincerely hope that the review will bring about real change and make those who procure, design, build and manage buildings more accountable for delivering buildings that are fit for purpose and put compliance above profit and to look beyond minimum standards as the benchmark to a successful project delivery. That stronger and effective, 21st century, sanctions are employed and embolden enforcement agencies to be proactive in achieving complaint buildings.

Wayne Timperley Bsc (Hons) FRICS, 20 December 2017

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