Building Safety Bill - real reform requires a cultural change

26 Aug 21

The important and much anticipated Building Safety Bill continues its journey to becoming law this month. GIRI has been reflecting on what is an ambitious and far reaching piece of legislation and what we need to do as an industry to ensure real change. 

As it stands, the Bill proposes a new framework of regulation, training, and oversight. It will be led by the new Building Safety Regulator, which will have the teeth and clout to hold responsible people to account at every stage of a building’s lifecycle. 

But rules and regulations only go so far. As we move towards the implementation of a new regime, we must make sure the legislation also pursues cultural change in our industry. To make buildings safe, economical and deliverable, the new system has to tackle a fundamental fault in parts of our industry: that error is considered an unavoidable and even permissible feature of construction.

This attitude currently costs the sector between 10% and 25% of project cost in the UK – or between £10-25 billion every year. And that is just the financial impact. On top of that it increases health and safety risks, wastes time and materials, and adds to the carbon footprint. The Bill must be seen as an opportunity to reinforce the value of eliminating error and getting buildings right first time. That is the way to bring about genuine change.   

Value versus cost

Listening to the evidence and reaction from the Grenfell inquiry, it is clear that residents were failed by a lack of transparency and honesty. While Grenfell is an extreme and tragic example, it is a product of the lowest cost culture that still exists across the sector.

This needs to change. As long as cost remains the most dominant factor in procurement, there will always be an incentive to pinch pennies somewhere in the supply chain, resulting in reduced resources, processes or quality at some point in the pursuit of viability. Value needs to be the guiding principle. GIRI has shown that errors lead to projects costing far more than would be the case if measures are adopted to ensure things are done properly in the first place. 

We are encouraged and excited by the golden thread principle, where each phase of a building’s lifecycle will be closely monitored and recorded, and hope it will lead to more long-term thinking. It must work in a way that convinces everyone in the industry that implementing thorough processes, choosing competent designers and contractors, and mandating suitable products and materials, is far more important than simply finding the cheapest option. 

Training for success 

The Bill will also introduce a number of new competences and qualifications for those working on new tall buildings. But it is not just technical skills that we are missing. Our sector already has a wealth of practical training available, much to its credit, but something more is needed. 

Education must focus on the approach we take and the mindset we adopt, as well as the skills we have. Culture and behaviour should be put at the heart of new accreditations and training. The Bill places emphasis on righting wrongs and remediating mistakes, but we can’t allow those measures to justify the fact that mistakes happen in the first place. New standards and competencies give us all the opportunity to learn how we avoid the errors that have become synonymous with high rise buildings, in particular in the past four years.

Carrot not stick

Changing the culture of construction will only work if we encourage the best possible practice. While the Bill includes a range of new powers for flat owners and the regulator to seek costs from developers that don’t build things up to code, such measures won't bring about the change the Government should be pursuing. 

We have to encourage the industry to be better, most notably in reducing error and improving value. We should be pushing for the best and brightest to enter our sector, and valuing more highly those with experience and expertise. 

The new regulator will play a major role in infusing these values throughout the industry under the new regime. And this Bill gives us a unique chance to achieve genuine change. If it has culture at its heart, it could make a real difference to the public, workers, and UK PLC.


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