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On 20th September, participants from across the Built Environment came together at STEAMhouse to discuss the urgent need to adapt the way they do business, in light of the significant legislative changes coming into force on the 1st October under the Building Safety Act. This requires all employers to ensure their workforce is ‘competent’ to carry out their duties.

The Grenfell tragedy claimed the lives of 72 innocent people. Richard Millett QC, lead counsel to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, describing how a ‘long run-up of incompetence’ led to the deadly events, and that every death was ‘avoidable’.

The associated introduction of the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) and the national oversight of construction product regulation within the Office for Product Safety Standards (OPSS), aims to encourage increased competence. The BSR and OPSS will be given powers to enforce the rules and act against those that break them.

Whilst the changes are welcome and many know why change is needed, we heard there is a lack of awareness and clarity in what the changes mean and how to get to a place of compliance and competence.

‘Since the Great Fire of London in 1666 politicians have legislated by disaster, driven by a huge public outcry following events such as the Summerland fire on the Isle of Wight in 1973, the Bradford City stadium fire in 1985, the fire at Kings Cross station in 1987 and most recently the inferno at Grenfell.  The Building Safety Act 2022 aims to create a change in culture, behaviour and working practices across the Built Environment to ensure that through increased competence the events which happened at Grenfell can never happen again.”

Mike Leonard – Building Alliance, Visiting Professor at Birmingham City University 

Enter STEAMhouse…

Our STEAM Challenge event was designed to enable cross-industry conversation and collaboration, resulting in actionable outcomes that enable businesses to respond to this gargantuan task.

Keynotes from the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) and Office for Product Safety Standards (OPSS) set the scene providing an opportunity for businesses to work directly with those setting out the new agenda, giving space to exchange knowledge, (respectfully!) challenge one another and share perspectives to find common ground to work together.

Participants from across the industry, including materials manufactures, installers, designers and engineers in roles from marketing to technical then worked collaboratively to get to know the problem better and asked themselves the big question, what does competence actually mean?

We heard that the act provides a ‘new era’ for the Built Environment and an opportunity to step away from ‘Grandfather rights’ (thank you for bringing that phrase to our attention!) to a progressive, inclusive and bespoke way of developing and maintaining skills.

Knowing what you don’t know and having the confidence to say ‘that’s not my skill but I know who’s it is” can lead to a shift in behaviours and create a culture of responsibility, pride and trust that breaks the ‘model of cheap wins’.

“From a regulator’s perspective I would say the key to meeting the new requirements under the Building Safety Act 2022 and the new fire safety legislation which will come into effect at the same time is ‘design, design, design’. From now on, it won’t be possible to put a spade in the ground until the building design has been approved by BSR.”

Andrew Moore – Head of Operations, Building Safety Regulator, part of the Health and Safety Executive.

We gave space to challenging the current model of skills training and heard best in class examples of learning that works, from bitesize micro modules and evidence based on site experience to self paced web based courses and independent accreditation.

Later we moved into action planning, using STEAMhouse tools to identify weaknesses and opportunities to get to a place of competence. Whilst much of this is confidential, we heard overwhelmingly that a human-centred approach is essential in creating a vision for this new era of change.

We must support not only those doing the jobs to take pride in their roles, but at all stages from design to build remember that these aren’t just buildings, they are the spaces and places where people live and work.

If we’ve learned anything from the tragedies that led to where we are now, it’s that we all have a responsibility to create a Built Environment to be proud of.

‘OPSS is delighted to see construction product manufacturers and suppliers collaborating to ensure the competence of their workforce. It’s this sort of cooperation that will help the UK deliver better, safer buildings.”

Duncan Johnson – Deputy Director, Construction Products Regulation, Office for Product Safety Standards.