Hackitt praises construction industry response to Covid-19 crisis

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The construction industry has demonstrated it is “capable of massive change at pace” and is able to dump old practices quickly “without compromising safety or quality” amid Covid-19, says Dame Judith Hackitt

Dame Judith Hackitt has praised the way the construction industry has responded to the Covid-19 crisis revealing it can make the changes it needs to improve building safety and quality.

Dame Judith was the guest presenter on the latest Covid-19 update webinar hosted by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) where she repeated her warning to the industry that “change is coming” and that the timetable for a new regulatory regime would not be derailed by the current crisis.

She urged everyone to follow the methods used to deliver vital projects for the NHS and other essential services where “collaboration and co-operation replaced fragmentation and adversarial behaviour”.

However, Dame Judith added that there was still a widespread lack of leadership across the construction sector and too many people waiting to be told what to do even though the new regulatory regime would be retrospective.

Accountability

Dame Judith said: “Some people have stood up to be counted and are doing the right thing, but not nearly enough…if you have continued building in the same old way you will be held accountable.”

The industry should be acting now to rebuild confidence with the financial and insurance markets, which she said were now alerted to poor practices that increase risk in construction projects.

Hackitt added that the construction industry should also be seeking to regain the trust of the general public after the Grenfell Tower disaster as many people now felt unsafe in their own homes.

She said she was optimistic about the future because there was a “groundswell of opinion that the industry needed to change, which is making my job easier.”

“Some companies are already changing… others are waiting to have their collar felt by the Regulator… but it is the best companies who are already getting on with it,” said Dame Judith.

She added that competence and accreditation would play an increasingly crucial part in industry reform.

“A lot of people simply don’t properly understand some of the features of buildings,” she told the BESA webinar.

“There are people who cut corners blatantly to save money because they can get away with it, but others simply lack competence. Sprinklers are no use at all if they are not installed properly.”

Compliance with regulations

She said the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) would have improved resources to enforce compliance with regulations, which will give greater prominence to the Competent Person Schemes developed by the industry.

BESA is currently enhancing its schemes in readiness for the new regulatory environment including the Competence Assessment Scheme (CAS) it uses to assess the technical and commercial professionalism of companies who apply for membership.

“There will now be a greater emphasis on whether companies have the technical competence and resources to carry out building services work,” explained BESA chief executive David Frise.

Another part of industry reform could involve the return of the Clerk of Works to oversee projects and ensure promises and records were kept. However, Dame Judith claimed this was not a return to “the way things were done in the past”, but a new role fit for the 21st Century.

“It is a quality control job and there are a lot of people from different professions who could take it on.”

Dame Judith also said the construction industry should be making up ground in adopting digital methods, but that BIM was “not the whole answer” because simply telling residents to look at a BIM model would not help them understand the health and safety features of their building.

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