Accreditation: Constructing a safer industry

The UK‘s construction industry is estimated to be worth just under £165 billion per year, contributing around 7% to GDP.  Throughout this vast and important sector everyone from architects and specifiers to product manufacturers and site managers know the importance of implementing a robust quality assurance system.  Whether it is a new build, repair or maintenance project, the appropriate material must be put in the right place, using the correct procedures, by people with the right level of competence.

The construction industry is served by numerous organisations providing a variety of certification, testing, inspection and calibration services.  If these organisations are the checkers, then who checks the checkers?  In the UK, this role falls to The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), who assesses the competence of these organisations against internationally recognised standards.  Adding this extra layer of assurance, accredited tests, measurements, inspections and certification helps deliver a world of confidence throughout the construction process.

What can be accredited?
Accreditation works across all parts of the construction industry from planning, design and specification, through to site management and ongoing building maintenance.  It is instrumental in driving the adoption of best practice, efficiency and quality, but most importantly safety throughout this large and complex industry.

Investigation of sites, construction materials and all building products are tested in accredited laboratories for classification, durability, safety characteristics and specification compliance.  Similarly, accredited calibration laboratories enable measurements in those areas such as humidity, pressure, electrical, mass and dimensional values to be trusted.

Welding, lifting, using work equipment and the carriage of dangerous goods are examples of everyday construction activities assessed by UKAS accredited inspection bodies.  Companies providing asbestos surveys and legionella risk assessments to building duty holders are also able to be accredited by UKAS.  As are inspection bodies being used for utility services such as gas and electricity safety, plus the installation and operation of pressure vessels.

Environmental areas are covered by accreditation too, from the testing of brownfield sites for contaminants to ongoing certification for Environmental Management Systems.

Moving with the times
Accreditation has a strong track record of supporting quality and safety in emerging and evolving sectors.  For example, Building Information Modelling (BIM) is continuing to revolutionise the construction and infrastructure sectors, and UKAS is currently undertaking a BIM pilot assessment programme.

The recently announced Green Homes Grant scheme specifies that homeowners must use installers that have been independently assessed by an accredited certification body against PAS 2030: Improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings – Specification for installation procedures, process management and service provision.  To qualify for the scheme, installers must also register with either TrustMark or the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), which are themselves accredited by UKAS.  By covering all areas of the scheme (from the products, installation methods to the sales and aftercare services) recipients of a Green Homes Grant can be confident their installations meet required standards and enhance the overall energy efficiency of their homes.

Safety first
The Grenfell Tower tragedy has forever changed the way high-rise buildings will be designed, specified, constructed and managed.  It has brought the importance of safety within the industry to the forefront and how that could and will be enhanced.  UKAS has been working closely with the government and interested parties to ensure that people who design, construct, manage, work or live in high-rise buildings are confident that these structures have been built to provide a safe, long term solution.

The Construction Industry Council’s Competence Steering Group (CSG) was established during the Hackitt review.  In 2019 it released an interim report recommending that inspection bodies carrying out competency assessments on high-risk residential buildings personnel (such as designers, specifiers, installers and other professionals) be subjected to meticulous examination by an appropriate body, such as the Engineering Council or UKAS.  This, along with the recent creation of the Construction Products Regulator and the Building a Safer Future Charter ensures accreditation will continue to play a vital role in helping the construction industry protect lives by putting safety first when it comes to designing, building, managing and using buildings.