FROM THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
I find myself writing to you this month from my hotel room in San Francisco, where I am currently visiting the USA with our chief executive John Hooper, and I will update members on this trip in the next Journal.
A tragedy waiting to happen!!
Over the past few years I have listened to the many discussions regarding quality in our industry and, being from a design background, I have felt quite strongly on this subject as quality at the moment appears to be slipping off the construction radar; but with the recent events of the Grenfell Tower disaster this subject has now publicly been brought to the forefront.
Our industry is and has been under constant pressure over the years to be faster, more competitive and more efficient, and quality and professionalism has become exacerbated by the student shortfalls, industry retirements and personal values of performance and compromise, and quite clearly quality is now being sacrificed for speed of delivery, and the quality gap is widening!
The Grenfell Tower tragedy has shocked the nation and, whilst we understand that the findings from this awful event will take months to come out, possibly years, it will have long lasting impacts on so many facets of the construction industry. Quality in our industry and the buildings being built have formed a major part of many agendas this year when high winds first exposed severe failings at Oxgangs School in Edinburgh and a wall collapsed. That was a warning sign that some things about the way we build cannot be right, and it has resulted in the CIOB setting up a commission to tackle the quality issue.
There is a clamour for answers, and there is also a dangerous media frenzy of finger pointing over the Grenfell Tower inferno before all the facts are known and investigations are complete, but it’s incumbent on our industry to act and with speed. By making dramatic improvements in the quality and safety of our buildings in the UK, our industry collectively can do something to demonstrate to those who have lost people in this disaster that action is being taken.
In the Lakanal House fire of 2009, confirmed in the Judgement of February 2017, defective workmanship and lack of adequate fire protection contributed to the fire spread, and poor quality control was found to have been an instrumental cause. Inevitably now the Building Regulations will be looked at, scrutinised and questioned, as will the Cladding, Fire Stopping, Internal Compartmentation and the professional management of involvement throughout the process, and delivering compliance will be the big and ongoing question of the professions for the professions for some time to come.
Tower blocks are inherently vulnerable to fire, and firefighting is often hampered by the heights involved. I have sat in many meetings over the years with fire safety professionals, and their frustrations are often clear, but with good design bettering minimum standards and quality management we should be able to maximise safety and assure compliance.
The importance of quality in design – the challenge
Throughout July I have visited a number of events and in particular the theme at each has been focused on quality in our industry, which is an objective I set when becoming president.
My first journey was to Newcastle for their 30th annual Buildeng Conference. This was an excellent event and well attended, and the importance and value of professional workmanship and quality was the area identified as to where we must all begin to push the boundaries and standards for improvement.
The importance of getting design and workmanship quality standards right for the benefit of disabled and impaired people was discussed and the need to better the minimum standards of part M. Understanding the differences of fire engineering and strategy was discussed along with the need for architectural design and management responsibilities to be in accordance with Regulation 38.
Future developments in legislation raised much interest, and again the importance of workmanship and industry quality management systems was presented along with a discussion around the new government document More Homes Fewer Complaints.
Further discussion was focused on Regulation 7, and is it time to revisit this guidance? The question arises as to whether this section should be expanded to allow Building Control to go beyond minimum standards, and what Building Control are not allowed to do (e.g. there is a misconception by the public that Building Control act as a Clerk of Works, and that their service extends to addressing aesthetics and appearance; provides a contractual or arbitration service, and offers a guarantee of compliance). We perhaps need to address this much better, but I do believe there is scope for the return of the Clerk of Works to smaller scale projects, and perhaps it is time this was brought forward for discussion.
It was then time to head for Northampton and attend my first board meeting as President, when it was a pleasure to install Anthony Burd as Vice-President.
It looks good for the year ahead and, working with the Vice-Presidents on many industry challenges and objectives, I’m pleased to say that both Gavin and Anthony share my objective of better quality standards and hopefully throughout the year this is something we will deliver to members and fellow professionals.
Next stop was the West Midlands and their monthly CPD event, where I delivered a presentation on design or build compliance and best practice, which was well received by the members in attendance. Much discussion was entered into on quality and compliance standards, and all agreed there is a national problem which industry and Government needs to urgently come together on and to collectively find a path of resolve for the future prosperity of our industry.
Following the West Midlands event, it was time for John Hooper and myself to head for the USA to meet our Chapters and industry leaders; strengthening our reach and links with members, and reinforcing our collaborative vision for the Association, and I look forward to updating members on this in the next journal.
It’s now 4.00am in the morning and, although I would like to add more on the quality issue, my eyes are telling me something else so until next month,
David Taylor BA(Hons) C.Build E PCABE FCABE MCIAT Peng MSPE