28 December 2018


While building standards have evolved over the centuries to manage risk and provide regulatory frameworks, the construction industry has struggled against economic and commercial factors that have been blamed for the ‘race to the bottom’.

The industry has always learnt and continues to learn from its failures, but to instill both the public and industry’s confidence and trust; a cultural change has to happen. 

The systematic failures in building safety, design, specification, construction and building management, led to the Grenfell tragedy.  The Hackitt review “Building a Safer Future – The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety” followed and identified various key issues.  It became apparent that ignorance and misunderstood guidance was commonplace. There was an overriding lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities plus inadequate regulatory enforcement.  In short, the Hackitt review found the whole regulatory system was unfit-for-purpose.
Making the change
A change of legislation will take time, but there is no reason to wait to start a behavioral change sooner. We must collectively go beyond the letter of the law and embrace its spirit; understanding what is ‘right’ as well as what is legally correct. Frameworks must take the broadest possible view of compliance, not the narrowest, while it is essential that we value and promote ethical behavior.  
Safety needs to be built into sustainable business models, avoiding bottom line business models which drive risk and addresses the low profitability of the industry.  The industry must invest more in research and design and late payment issues must be better resolved. 
A re-assessment of our approach to procurement must take place. The process needs to give greater importance to quality and competency, as well as price, whilst contracts need to be more unified and of a concordat nature.
Rethinking conventions
We need to rethink the familiar project management performance triangle of time, cost and quality, or at least reframe it in a circle of ethics to consider the value of quality.  Unlike time, quality is not a value which will show up on a budget, yet it is one that is remembered long after the price is forgotten. 
Considerations of both ethics and quality leads back to risk control. The emphasis on price has led to competition, which in turn has bred a lack of communication and collaboration between the players in a project. When this happens, risk management happens in isolation. The industry needs to collaborate, share best practice and keep up with the pace of change. This will only happen when, collectively, we become more open-minded and trustful of our peers and we must remember that all disciplines and professions have a role to play in bringing together a successful project.  
No individual can ensure safety in construction independently; we can only meet our obligations to the public if we work collaboratively.  We need to provide leadership and set an example in embracing these key values now. 
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By David Taylor, CABE President
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