With a more certain political landscape and some burning issues within our construction industry, the government machine is publishing more information and opportunities to feedback than ever before.
A number of consultations, with varying deadlines were launched in late January, specifically targeting combustible materials and fire related issues. Government is keen to ensure that people are safe where they sleep, understanding the past and the position we are in today so that we can ensure a better future for people living in the UK.
These consultations were timed with the government response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report. This talked once again of the determination that the use of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) rainscreen cladding and combustible insulation on the exterior of Grenfell Tower was the defining factor in the rapid and all-consuming spread of the fire.
The response included many elements relevant to those who work in the commercial side of our industry including clarification around Fire Safety Orders; testing and certification of materials; technical review of the guidance surrounding Approved Document B (Fire Safety).
The review of the 18-metre height threshold is an important step, as well as a rapid solution to the current interim measures in place for the 400+ high buildings with ACM cladding.
However most notable is the creation of the new Building Safety Regulator (BSR), established from within the Health and Safety Executive. Whether this is the correct path, instead of a new body with no ties to any past actions will remain to be seen. HSE is renowned for strongly dealing with the impact of disasters, but the UK is looking for the BSR to ensure a strong system of prevention rather than the robust actioning of any clean-up exercise.
The changes that are being seen, especially as regards bans on combustible materials, are causing rapid change within construction. Several parts of our industry have been impacted by the recent bans and we need more consolidation in approach to meet the changes we are facing. Clear independent evidence is required when trying to change a government’s view, but too often we complain about the impact to our businesses, which does not stack-up when dealing with the value of human life.
So much will evolve this year and whilst the focus will remain on the high-rise buildings, it will undoubtedly flow into all areas of our building sector. As the prominence of change occurs, consumers will start expecting such change in buildings such as hospitals and schools. Height may not be the primary factor in such structures, but the complexity of interiors coupled with the physical characteristics and vulnerability of the inhabitants raises the level of risk.
Safety as the primary focus within construction will not change in 2020, and those who comment publicly on our industry which represents more than 6 percent of Gross Domestic Product and employs more than 2.4 million workers, do so highlighting the long road ahead.
Materials and methods of construction need to be supported by on-site changes in habits. The need to make a profit is not an acceptable defence when dealing in the realms of safety and construction needs to understand the economic impact that doing it right can place on the delivery chain.
So many products and methods of construction need to be reviewed and those who have been asking historically for greater controls can stand on platforms saying they were right to do so.
For glazing we need to ensure that our products are in-line with the raised standards and accept that everything is potentially up for review. Beyond the products will be the standards of our on-site teams as those who employ us will be determined to understand who is competent to do the job in front of them.
In solving the issues of Rainscreen Cladding there is a drive to deal with Supervisors as well as the Installers themselves. Training packages will be created, backed by assessment regimes, to ensure that those on-site are suitably equipped to not only do the task ahead but be able to deal with unforeseen issues.
Glazing as a subset of construction needs to be looking at the horizon, as to think we are out of scope of certain changes is folly. Too often the old trade associations have argued for a different rule set for our industry which has left us isolated and further off the pace than most. There are so many examples in business of those who resist change being casualties in a short space of time, although it was nice to find a kodak disposable camera when recently cleaning out one of my man drawers.