Hackitt calls for “root and branch” industry reform to create safer buildings

Dame Judith Hackitt, author of the independent report looking into Building Regulations and fire safety post-Grenfell, has called for a “root and branch reform” of the construction industry’s culture, alongside a tougher regulatory regime.

Hackitt told the annual Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) conference and exhibition: “People are looking for quick fixes but they need to understand that root and branch reform is required. This has to be a turning point to bring about the culture change we need.”

While urging a change in industry behaviour in construction of buildings, she also stressed her belief that this is achievable, referring to health and safety once being seen as a difficult problem to crack. Hackitt noted industry successes in reducing fatalities and bringing in much improved standards.

She said a wider focus on safety was needed in terms of how we design and build: “Currently construction safety is focused on the workforce, but we need to also consider residents and the public. We need to think about buildings not as jigsaw puzzles that magically come together, they need to be treated as a complex system – a change in one small thing can have massive changes and impact integrity of the buildings.”

Hackitt attacked value engineering as “anything but value, it is cutting costs and quality” and said that the industry needed to stop working in silos. In addition Hackitt said that procurement methods were a big concern: “The structure of industry has to change to make it more effective. We need to put a focus on the way in which buildings are procured. If we have a process that makes people bid at a cost they can’t afford to deliver at, we set ourselves up to fail.”

On competency and accountability, she said: “We have many people working at different levels. We need to understand these levels and people need to know what is expected from them and we need to make sure those who are not fully compliant are properly supervised.” She added clarification on the role of Approved Inspectors: “There is no reason why Approved Inspectors can’t be part of the Joint Competent Authority, there just can’t be a conflict of interest. You can do both roles, just not on the same project.”

She concluded by warning of a “race to the bottom” and the lack of focus the sector has in “delivering safe homes for people to live in, as well as the fundamental flaws in design and build contracts that sees undocumented projects handed over to clients.”