WHY COMPETENCE IS KEY

By Mark Tomlin, Chief Executive of VJ Technology

The construction industry is at a turning point. The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower two years ago has resulted in a lot of difficult questions being asked and in many cases the answers were not what the industry was hoping for. The shortcomings of the industry have been laid bare and it is clear that a lot needs to change. However, with the construction industry being so complex, where do we start?

As a result of the Grenfell fire, Dame Judith Hackitt was tasked by government with reviewing regulations which led to a report – ‘Building a Safer Future: Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’. One of the cornerstones of the report was the proposal that a new body, ‘the Joint Competent Authority’ (JCA) would take responsibility for building safety and this would include compliance with regulations.

The proposal was for the JCA to comprise of the fire and rescue service, the health and safety executive and local authority building control, the logic being that all three organisations would need to be involved in a new building safety regime. At the end of last year, government announced the three bodies would come together as the joint regulators’ group to pilot the JCA and establish how this would work with the proposals incorporated into the wider regulatory consultation.

However, as part of this consultation the JCA was scrapped and replaced by a proposed new building safety regulator. This was decided on the basis that it is perceived that it would be simpler to regulate building safety with one body, rather than three. The regulator will work to drive high standards of competence for those working on buildings. This will include:

  • Oversight of building safety and wider regulation
  • Operation and enforcement of the new regime for high-rise residential buildings, and setting guidance
  • Advising government on which buildings should be included in the scope of the new regime, by developing and analysing evidence on risk
  • Oversight of competence of people working on buildings, including keeping a register of those competent to take on key duty holder roles in the new system and providing guidance on where to find qualified people to work on buildings in scope.

And for me, this is the key part – competence. Competence needs to be at the heart of everything the industry does, as a building will only be as good as the quality of how it is delivered – whether this is good design, procurement, engineering, workmanship or project management. Therefore, to achieve this we need competent people.

However, it needs to go further than merely identifying people as being competent; it needs to be about people understanding they have a duty and responsibility, no matter what their role. For example, site cooperatives will need to prove they are competent at doing the job they are being asked to do and ensure that they are doing that job well – each and every time. We also need a competent person checking and signing this work off as we go along, and recording relevant information so that we start to create Dame Hackitt’s ‘golden thread of information’.

Training will be essential to ensuring competence, and this is where manufacturers and suppliers come in. Onsite training and technical support will be critical, as product knowledge needs to cascade down through a contractor; from the person specifying it, through to the person tasked with installing it. If anyone is not 100% sure about how a product should be installed there should be a mechanism that allows them to ask and if required, be provided with training. VJ Technology prides itself on its commitment to offering customers training and technical support. Our team is on site virtually every day, supporting customers to ensure the correct product is specified and being installed in the correct manner. We all play an important role – whether we are a supplier, specifier, engineer or contractor – and we have to understand that competence is a requirement from all of us.