Culture change challenge

As the Building Safety Bill edges closer to becoming law, Nathan Garnett examines the need for culture change in the construction industry.

Culture change is easily talked about and much more difficult to achieve, but it is a fundamental issue that underpins the improvement in fire and life safety being demanded in the construction industry right now.

The UK’s largest live event in construction is scheduled to debate this issue over three days in May, looking at how quality, care and competency can be placed at the veryheart of a culture shift in how we build. Asthe Building Safety Bill edges ever closer to becoming law, the timing of UK Construction Week in London on 3-5 May coincides with a pivotal moment for the industry.

More than 25,000 people are expected to come together to explore how the industry implements new behaviours, best practice, and techniques to keep up with new building methods, and to achieve the sort of culture change called for by people such as Dame Judith Hackitt.

However, the warning bell is already ringing that basic minimum compliance with new legislation is not in itself going to be enough. In her third annual report from the Industry Safety Steering Group, set up after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Judith Hackitt says: "It has been crystal clear to many of us from the outset that legislation alone will not deliver the outcomes we are looking for. The culture of the industry itself must change to one which takes responsibility for delivering and maintaining buildings which are safe for those who use them."

Low take-up a concern

While commending those third sector bodies who support or represent various parts of the industry who have done a ‘huge amount of work’ – particularly the Considerate Constructors Scheme in establishing both the Building a Safer Future Charter and working with the Construction Products Association on the Code for Construction Product Information – the low take-up of these initiatives is a ‘serious’ concern. "To date only a small number of the usual players have committed to be part of the Building a Safer Future Charter and all that it entails, and we have heard repeatedly that there is a low level of demand for training despite the well-known issues around competence across many key disciplines."

One of the keynote speakers at UKCW London is Amanda Long, chief executive of the Considerate Constructors Scheme and Building a Safer Future charter. What does she think it will take to achieve real culture change in construction when it comes to fire safety?

"Industry-wide leadership and a culture that commits to putting people’s safety first is essential,’ she says. ‘This requires, at all levels, construction industry commitment to continuous improvement and engagement with practical tools and steps to support their journey and demonstrate their progress. UK Construction Week in May – and our Building Safety First conference on 24 March – will support the sector through exploring practical ways to achieve urgent and necessary change in the construction industry."

In-depth debate

The Fire Protection Association is attending UKCW London and will participate in an in-depth debate session on the Building Safety Bill and how to be a part of driving real change in the industry. Dr Jim Glockling, technical director at the FPA and RISCAuthority, will be speaking alongside Amanda Long and Gavin Skelly of Fire Aware.

Jonathan O’Neill OBE, managing director of the Fire Protection Association says:

"As building methods and materials change, we must move to a system that incorporates regular reviews of building regulations, supported by comprehensive large-scale research focused on understanding how these structures perform in fire. Building control has needed sorting out for many years, and we need a system in this country that covers all elements of construction. We need to stop working in silos and act together to drive collaboration in what is still such a fragmented industry."

The FPA will also be running a CPD session on fire testing and certification alongside global safety certification organisation, UL International (UK).

Others helping to illustrate the range of practical changes and improvements available to the industry include exhibitors Aico, Carbon8Lighting, Ermetika Pocket Doors, UK Fire Door Training, Intelligent Production Management Group, PlanRadar, the Fire Safety Charity, Quelfire, and Permavent and Quadrant Building Control — both of whom will also be presenting fire safety seminars at the CPD Hub.

Fire Aware, a not-for-profit organisation looking to develop a cultural shift in the way we procure and deliver fire safety in the industry will also be speaking at the event. Gavin Skelly, founder of Fire Aware, says: "Building and fire
safety is growing in the sector’s consciousness and is becoming a freshly considered priority for the consumer. We want to encourage and drive that in a tangible and practical way.

"Everyone across the development, construction, and building management sectors has a duty of care to the end user of a building. Following the tragedy of Grenfell, it’s vital that those who create, own, or manage the built environment come together to put resident safety at the heart of their enterprise and rebuild public trust. We want to promote what ‘good’ looks like in resident safety. We provide collaboration and shared experience to ensure that our members’ buildings, sites, and projects are fire safe, and that we can all learn from the past to build a better future."

Other fire safety professionals are being urged to join the debate at UK Construction Week London.

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Nathan Garnett is Event Director at UK Construction Week.