Much needed tighter controls for products – as published in GGP Mag

Much needed tighter controls for products – as published in GGP Mag

Chair of Certass Trade Association, Jon Vanstone discusses the new national construction products regulator and what it holds for the construction industry.

A fair bit has been written in recent weeks about the establishment of the new national construction products regulator to ensure that buildings are built from safe materials. This significant step by Government is in direct response to the fact that the current system has proven to be broken from evidence gathered within the Grenfell enquiry.

The rhetoric has been strong from Government as the Housing Minister stated that this is due to ‘dishonest practice’ by some manufacturers of construction products. The Grenfell tragedy has highlighted so many gaping weaknesses in today’s system.

Within the enquiry, manufacturers and their employees haven been accused of malpractice in a chain of events that led to the ultimate price with loss of life.

Such is the importance of this move that the new regulator will have the power to remove any product from the market that presents a significant safety risk and prosecute companies who flout the rules on product safety. The regulator will have the power to conduct its own product testing when investigating concerns rather than relying on the work of others.

Businesses are being warned in the strongest of terms that they must ensure their products are safe before being sold, in addition to testing products against more stringently applied safety standards.

The regulator will operate within the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) which will expand and be given up to £10 Million in funding to establish this new function.

As ever success can only be seen with delivery and whilst all this is directly in-line with the outputs from the Hackitt Review which stated that the industry and Government must ensure construction products are properly tested, certified, labelled and marketed. The provision is absolutely critical as progress to date has often been too slow at a time when focus is increasing.

Enforcement is often the weakness with compliance in the UK and therefore it is noteworthy that the new regulator will work directly with the Building Safety Regulator and Trading Standards. However, at this moment only Trading Standards exists and is often dogged by calls for it to do more to those who give industry a bad name.

At the same time as this, Government has commissioned an independent review to examine weaknesses in previous testing regimes for construction products, and to recommend how abuse of the testing system can be prevented. Ideally this would have been done prior to any actions but time is not our friend and Government is needing to spin several plates at the same time.

At point of writing this, so many of the details need to be developed and the impact on existing practises in our industry is yet to be known. The focus though is on the safety aspect due to its origin, so some of the methods in our industry that may need review are likely to not be impacted for some time.

The principles on responsibility will need to be understood as with greater penalties the relationship between the product and how it is used and installed will create some interesting complexities that could apply to many markets including our own.

It will be interesting to see how we move forward, as many of those who were in positions of influence in the last 10 years and have not done enough, are still there. Too often newly formed construction groups and committees are replete with the same people which can only dampen the ability for fresh thought and innovation.

The senior levels of Construction, as with many industries, are often considered to be a ‘Members only club’ who are uncomfortable with true disruption. Too many of the initiatives are aiming for an almost Bronze standard when Gold or Platinum is called for.

However, with the Building Safety Regulator being born out of HSE and Products Regulator from OPSS, there is an opportunity to gather a collective for the future who are focussed on the future needs of the UK as opposed to an agenda that seems to align with who ultimately pays their salary.