Addressing competence in the new building safety regime


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Assessing and accrediting the competence of individuals working on high-rise residential buildings (HRRBs)(currently defined as those buildings over 18 metres or over 6 storeys, whichever is reached first) is a key principle underpinning the new building safety regime.

The Government has said that for the new system to operate effectively there will need to be confidence that all those working on HRRBs have the competence to carry out their jobs to the required standards. Under the upcoming Building Safety Bill, duty-holders will have legal obligations to ensure that those they employ to design, construct, operate, manage and maintain their HRRBs are competent and only undertake work which they are competent to do.

The Hackitt review

Dame Judith Hackitt's review identified a fragmented approach to competence in the building safety sector and made a number of recommendations to ensure that those working on HRRBs have the proven competence to do so. But addressing competence requires a shift in mind-set across the whole sector and involves asking difficult questions at both an individual and industry-wide level: Are we competent? What standards of competence do we need to ensure the delivery of safer buildings? In order to ensure that the new building safety regime is implemented correctly and in the spirit in which it has been designed, the assessment of competency will be central and the regime will add cost without achieving value if accreditation of those that work in and around HRRBs is allowed to become a box-ticking exercise.


'Raising the Bar'

The sector has already made significant progress in trying to define whose competency needs to be assessed, what those competency requirements should be and what the accreditation framework within which those requirements sit should look like. In August 2019, the industry-led Competence Steering Group, with input from hundreds of industry organisations and the Government, published 'Raising the Bar', an interim report which took forward Dame Judith Hackitt's competency recommendations. The report proposes a new approach to competence for the sector and helpfully provides a working definition of the term "competency": the combination of knowledge and skills that enables a person to make informed decisions and carry out a defined task.

'Raising the Bar' sets out competency frameworks (i.e. the skills and knowledge required and how these should be assessed) for 12 of the key roles relevant to fire and building safety on HRRBs, including architects, engineers, procurement professionals, installers and the new statutory role of the Building Safety Manager. It proposes nominating trade bodies and professional institutions to oversee relevant training and accreditation and having a third-party independent body, such as the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) or similar, accredit those bodies themselves.


The report also proposes an overarching competence framework standard that would apply to all professions and trades working on HRRBs. There would also be an oversight body to supervise and drive competence throughout the sector, which the Government has confirmed will be established by/within the new Building Safety Regulator.

The Government has also confirmed that it is also planning to mandate a requirement for enhanced competence requirements for critical roles such as the Principal Designer, Principal Contractor and Building Safety Manager and is working with the British Standards Institution to set these requirements out in a suite of national standards.

Making it work in practice

The complexity and scale of the changes proposed is significant and will take a number of years to fully implement. Design and delivery costs will also be substantial, although it is not yet clear where these costs will fall and the Government has yet to estimate them.

There are also concerns about implementation. For now, the competency frameworks would only apply to those working on HRRBs ('Raising the Bar' recommends that they should also apply to all Government construction projects), although the aim is that they will eventually apply to the whole sector. As it stands there is the risk that the current scope could lead to a two-tier system, where only those working on HRRBs engage with the new frameworks.

The Competence Steering Group's final report is due to be published imminently. All organisations working on HRRBs will need to review the proposed new competency frameworks to understand what will be required of them and their workers under the new regime. But the rest of the industry cannot afford to ignore the report - wider adoption is crucial to bring about the culture change that is required for the new building safety regulatory regime. As Dame Judith recently said "competency and accreditation is going to be a major feature of the future" and should not be ignored.

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