UK Construction & Engineering: Safer Construction Materials- A New National Regulator

By Vijay Bange

Following our recent blog concerning the challenges and issues in the construction industry arising post Grenfell and the Dame Hackitt Review, the Government continues with its mission to tackle some root safety concerns. One of the many recommendations made was that more needs to be done to ensure that construction products are robustly tested, certified and labelled, and that there needs to be  a more robust regulatory framework to police this. Furthermore, to ensure that there is greater accountability for those manufacturing and /or selling dangerous building products.

The Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, announced on 19th January 2021[1] the establishment and funding of a national regulator[2] working closely with the Building Safety Regulator and trading standards, and indeed other regulators, whose remit would be to ensure that safer materials are used to build homes. The issue is no longer limited just to dangerous cladding and is more wholesale. This was a scathing, and candid, account of the perceived deficiencies in the industry. Separately, the government has also commissioned a panel of experts to look into the fitness of testing regimes for construction products, and tackling abuse of testing products used for construction, and it is anticipated that this review will report its findings this year. Potentially, this too may result in further changes to the relevant regulations. What is evident is that there is a multi-pronged effort to make changes to implement safety concerns post Grenfell, and implement the measures arising from the Dame Hackitt Review.

The intention is that this regulator will police and seek better market surveillance to:

  • Ensure products used in the building process are safe.
  • Provide inspection and enforcement powers.
  • Powers to require testing of building products for compliance with prevailing safety standards.
  • Carry out its own testing of products itself.
  • Power to remove unsafe products from market place.
  • Prosecute those manufacturing or selling unsafe building products where safety rules are flouted.

Whilst the industry is actively seeking to redress these issues and concerns, the Government has taken the initiative to intervene with its own safety net, driven by the fact that there is public pressure to ensure that lessons learned from the Grenfell tragedy are actioned. The Fire Safety Bill which the Government intends to introduce in Spring 2021,  is seeking to implement steps to overhaul the old safety regimes to promote safety of residents. The reality is that building processes, and construction materials used and processes have advanced greatly from the traditional build of bricks and mortar. However, the relevant building regulations have become antiquated, hence the need for a roots and branches overhaul.

The intention is also for there to be the creation of the new role of Chief Inspector of Buildings.

There is a real momentum in the industry, and by the Government to restore public confidence in relation to safety of residential buildings. Whilst the construction industry has always been responsive to challenges, intervention by the Government with initiatives will ensure that there is greater compliance with products safety, and that where there are lapses, that there will be a regulatory framework to take action. The Health and Safety Executive will, one thinks, be working in partnership with the new regulator to enforce and prosecute.

Whilst the regulator will be pursing those who manufacture or sell building products that are dangerous and unsafe, consultants involved in the design and speciation of products will need to be mindful of obligations and responsibilities in this fast moving clamp down to ensure safe buildings. There are reports of a slump in apartment sales, and these measures arguably are necessary to ensure confidence in the market place, and that safety is top of the agenda.

[1] UK Parliament- Written questions, answers and statements – Building Safety Update- Statement made on 19 January 2021 by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

[2] Operating within the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS).