Dame Judith Hackitt: ‘Simpler and more robust regulatory framework required’
Almost a year ago, Dame Judith Hackitt was tasked by the Government to conduct an independent review of building regulations and fire safety in high rise buildings in the wake of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower and the report was published in May this year.
The aim of the end-to-end review into the system and people was to assess the effectiveness of current building and safety regulations, focussing on high-rise buildings.
Dame Hackitt was asked to make recommendations that ensured there is a sufficiently robust regulatory system in the future.
It had to consider the whole life cycle of the building, through occupation and refurbishment, but Dame Hackitt told Heather Beach from Healthy Work Company that the review “had to steer a course through the complex structure of the series of more specialist review’s that were going on at the time.”
She emphasised that her report was “just the beginning”, with her remit to “analyse the system, not getting into the details or how it evolved, but to look at how it can be improved going forward.” The Public Inquiry, which is ongoing, will delve deeper into the specifics.
This included the specifics of cladding, which when questioned on why she stopped short of recommending a ban on combustible cladding, Dame Hackitt said that her task “was to look at why the system allowed for something to be put in place. For many, the martials put on Grenfell should not have been there based on the current standards that were in place.”
A chemical engineer, Dame Hackitt has more than two decades of first-hand experience of working in chemical industry running major hazard manufacturing facilities, she also spent nine years as Chair of HSE, a ‘world class regulator’.
She said she was selected for the review because “my experience helps me to know what good regulation looks like.”
From the outset, Dame Hackitt was given the challenge of reporting back with her findings within a year. In the final report, she made 53 recommendations “which will result in a simpler but more robust regulatory framework and overall system for high rise buildings.”
To aid initial simplicity, Dame Hackitt explained, her report has only looked at buildings with more than 10 floors.
“The safety case regime currently kicks in at 10 floors, there is nothing to say we can’t expand the regime to buildings below 10 floors, but it must be done in a managed way.
“If we set out to tackle all new and current buildings of all height, we’d be looking at between 2,000 – 3,000 buildings, which would be an unmanageable list.
“We must get the system in place first and make sure it is working, so it’s important that we prioritise higher buildings to start with.”
In an interim report, submitted in December, it was highlighted that the ‘current regulatory system for ensuring fire safety in high rise and complex buildings is weak and ineffective.’
Dame Hackitt said that this was because “it’s not enforced and is complicated because it’s possible for people to gain the system and get around the regulations”.
“I was shocked how much management is done on the hoof and how many sketchy designs are approved from the outset”, she added.
Joined up thinking
The final report recommended joined up thinking and a fundamental reform of the system, a stronger and tougher regulatory regime which should consist of a Joint Competent Authority (JCA) comprising the Health and Safety Executive, Local Authority Building Control, Fire and Rescue Authorities. It must “ensure they bring their different competencies to the table.” This authority is currently subject to Government process, but it is hoped it will be set up soon.
Currently, “The fire service are required to be consulted, but there is no requirement to take action on their recommendations.” Something which Dame Hackitt said needed to be changed.
When compiling the report, Dame Hackitt studied other global systems but said there is currently no better system anywhere that inspiration could be drawn on. Instead, she used pockets of good practice, which we can learn from and incorporate.
There is a “need for a better system of ensuring who is responsible at ever stage of the process”, she added.
Dame Hackitt spoke in detail about the confusing nature of the current system and how it is difficult to manage. She said that it needs to be simpler, but at the same time “more rigorous standards must be set by the regulator and enforced by the government”.
She called for an “increased level of competency throughout the construction sector” and said that change is needed “to ensure that people are competent at what they are doing, or at the very least are properly supervised.”
There is also a need for approved Building Control inspectors. Dame Hackitt identified a “clear conflict of interest” in being able to pay approved inspectors to regulate you. “An approved inspector cannot advise and regulate at the same time”, if they are to act as regulators – they need to work for the regulator.
Residents play a key part in the safety of buildings but, in the aftermath of Grenfell, Dame Hackitt said: “There must be an effective way for residents to raise concerns and to report bad practice and for those concerns to be listened too and acted upon by an independent body.”
She pointed out that it’s not all bad news and that there are some areas of the system is working well, where communities and building managers are liaising and listening to residents and making changes. This, Dame Hackitt said, should be more widespread, rather than relying on a few good people going above and beyond.
“Residents must be allowed to have their voices heard and all must be encouraged to get involved and share their views.”
Dame Hackitt went on to discuss the importance of holding duty holders to account and called for ‘a preventative approach with serious penalties for those who fail to comply before an incident or tragedy occurs’.
She also spoke about ‘an outcomes-based approach to encourage real ownership and accountability. ‘Those undertaking building work and managing buildings must be responsible for delivering and maintaining safe buildings.’
In review, Dame Hackitt said that “The new system will be simpler but more robust and will give us a better and stronger regulation for the future.”
She warned that it would be a big change, but not a leap into the unknown. “What I saw in the construction industry when I was at the HSE was a major change in which employees were viewed.”
She also said that ‘further lessons and learning may need to be incorporated in the light of further evidence from the Public Inquiry’ and that there were many specifics which still need to be addressed, such as “what is truly meant by non-combustible cladding”.
Dame Hackitt was speaking as part of a Barbour EHS webinar, which will be available to download in full. Keep a look out on SHP for more details.
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