8 February 2019
By David Taylor President of Chartered Association of Building Engineers
Last month I was honoured to deliver the keynote speech at the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) conference Pathways to Excellence in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. With an audience spanning design, construction, evaluation and operation, reflecting the diverse nature of CABE’s membership, the topic had to have wide appeal and strike a note on which to open and, therefore, establish the rest of the day’s content. The one topic that for me affects everyone in the industry and knows no geographical boundaries is safety – it’s also a topic that is high on the agenda and still requires our attention and improvement.
There is little doubt that health and safety has taken huge leaps forward over recent years. However, this doesn’t mean we can take our foot off the gas and sit back in the belief that it is a job well done. There is still much we can do to improve the safety of our industry, and I believe the biggest step we can take is by acknowledging that it is a shared responsibility and that we must all work together.
Back in 1994, Sir Michael Latham stated: “No construction project is risk-free. Risk can be managed, minimised, shared, transferred or accepted. It cannot be ignored.” The statement is as true today as it was nearly 25 years ago when he said it.
CABE believes in the four principles of being safer together:
- core values of ethics, integrity, competency and communication
- risk management across procurement, occupational risk, financial risk and project risk
- standards including Building Regulations, planning policy and Construction Design and Management Regulations (CDM), and
- industry image in terms of how we conduct ourselves, educating a next generation workforce and consumer perception.
Industry standards have evolved to help us manage risk through regulation, but we as an industry have had to continue to learn and, unfortunately, have had to learn from our mistakes, which often can be very public and fatal. But with increased standards, have we learnt to co-ordinate and communicate better? Have we learnt to control frameworks better and co-ordinate delivery of projects from design across construction to operation? I’m afraid the answer is, not always.
In 2016 Mark Farmer created ‘The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model’, commissioned by the Construction Leadership Council at the request of the government. In it, he concluded that the construction industry must ‘modernise or die’ and called for urgent changes to the industry structure and working practices. Roll forward two years to 2018 and these are messages were being echoed by Dame Judith Hackitt in her report, the ‘Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’. So what have we learnt?
The problem is our industry is struggling against economic and commercial factors. Corners get cut and standards are compromised to save money. There isn’t an easy fix. If we are to make a cultural change away from ‘lowest cost wins’, we need to revisit our core values. We need to address competency, compliance and enforcement. We also need to look at design, technology and manufacturing and consider procurement, whole-life maintenance, management and the involvement of the most important person – the end user.
This all takes time and I believe the starting point is good leadership. Leadership is something that we can all implement, everyone has the ability to make a difference through their behaviours and decisions. Cultural change needs to start at the top and it, therefore, has to start with goodleadership.
The client – whether they are public or private – will always have cost as a primary driver for their project. It is our responsibility to ensure that what we deliver for this cost is fit for purpose and not compromised in any way. We also need to understand that by all of us, no matter what our role, working more closely togetherthroughout a project, we can significantly improve delivery, not only in terms of quality, but also cost efficiency.
Through good leadership, open communication and a genuine collaborative approach we can create buildings that are safer and fit for purpose. In doing so we will also help to change the perception of the industry and create a more financially stable industry whilst ensuring the welfare of our workforce. We also need to understand that it is not just a UK issue, it’s a global issue. As witnessed, through CABE’s international chapters – USA, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Malaysia and the Middle East – safety doesn’t discriminate or have geographical boundaries. It’s a shared responsibility and only by working together can we make this change for the better.