The new construction product regulator established within the Office for Product Safety and Standards certainly faces a complex and expanding task as it seeks to address systemic failings identified by the Hackitt Review and develop a ‘fit for purpose’ product-assurance programme for the UK.
Established, using seed corn funding of £10 million, this new function, is a welcome step given what we are learning from the Grenfell inquiry. A regulator with a focus to ‘make sure that homes are built from safe materials’ and real power to ‘remove any product from the market that presents a significant safety risk and prosecute any companies who flout the rules on product safety’, offers the sort of security many demand.
However, the challenge, as those in the industry know, is that the process of assurance goes way beyond just the product itself. The most effective quality regime can be rendered utterly useless if the product is installed incorrectly by a poorly trained operative.
Of course, product certification is essential, but in itself it doesn’t address the performance of components once they are set within what can be complex building systems. Consequently, we need a whole-system approach starting with product design and running right through materials and manufacturing, realistic testing and progressing on to application and onsite installation.
Competence is fundamental to the approach. Product selection, use and installation requires individuals who behave correctly and have the correct skills, knowledge and experience. Significant progress has been made in this regard, most recently with government-sponsored and industry-supported action coordinated by the British Standards Institute to create the BSI Flex 8670 initiative, now moving forward at pace.
Combined drivers of this kind mean the construction sector will face ongoing challenges to change culture and so move away from the ‘lowest bid’ race to the bottom that misused the value proposition and pushed risk down the supply chain. At the start of the year the government launched the Construction Sector Playbook, which aims to transform the sector with a new approach that leads on whole-life cost and productivity through a collaborative approach to procurement. Roundly welcomed by the sector, it will play a major part in constructing safe buildings.
The Fire Sector Federation has promoted and continues to recommend third-party assurance as the simple and most effective way to ensure quality and safety in our built environment. In a post-Brexit world, the UKCA quality mark is an opportunity for the UK to lead the development of effective standards of performance. However, ask anyone in the industry and they will say that there are serious concerns about the UK capacity to achieve the required transition, with many informed commentators calling for extension of the period for use of CE marking, scheduled to run out at the end of 2021. The current proposals for UKCA have been described as unworkable and expensive. Best estimates from the sector are that it will take three to five years to build the capacity necessary for UKCA certification, and there is deep concern that the clock is ticking down to a deadline that expires in a matter of months.
Given the government has commissioned an independent review to examine weaknesses in the previous testing regimes for construction products, it may also wish to look at these challenges.
Recognising there is some distance to go, the Federation has established a Product Assurance Group, which can draw on the wide range of knowledge and expertise available within the membership to examine the issues and wants to use the opportunity to shape policy that will deliver effective solutions.
The group, which will work to develop understanding and meaningful recommendations for both government and the sector, believes a commitment to continuing effective dialogue is essential if we are to ‘raise the bar’ on product assurance for a safer built environment.
The Fire Sector Federation (seeks to give voice to and exert influence in shaping future policy and strategy related to the UK Fire Sector. The Federation is a not-for-profit non-government organisation established to act as a forum for the benefit of its membership and to evolve as a central source of information on all aspects relating to fire.
For more information, go to www.firesectorfederation.co.uk