The ways clients commission and contract for building work is beginning to change as a result

Richard saxon bw 2018

The Grenfell fire revealed so many layers of failure in the UK approach to the design, construction and management of buildings that the reverberations will last for many years.

One area will be its effect on how clients commission and contract for building work. The trend of the last several decades towards clients choosing design-build procurement and main contractors subcontracting almost all work may be checked.

There has been a steady progression away from clients asking consultants to do detailed design and to supervise work on site, directly or via a clerk of works.Clients have been advised not to attract liability by working through directly appointed consultants.

The trend of the last several decades towards clients choosing design-build procurement and main contractors subcontracting almost all work may be checked

They have also seen design-build as a single source and better guarantee of quality as no negligence need be proven to gain compensation.

Contractors have sold the idea that their internal quality systems avoid the need for external supervision. Recent abject failures suggest that these quality systems are not all working. In stepping away from responsibility, clients have delegated more than Dame Judith Hackitt, author of the report into regulatory failure revealed by the Grenfell fire, thinks they should.

Clients remain the responsible party for construction health and safety compliance, having to appoint responsible parties to design and to build safely. Dame Judith thinks this model should also apply to building and fire safety regulation, with clients keeping the prime duty for compliance. Those duty holders they appoint to specify and construct will also want to be more certain of the firms to which they subcontract.

JCT publishes families of contracts to suit all approaches to procurement. At present the design-build editions are some of the most popular, applied in either single-stage or two-stage form.

It would not be surprising to see some return to the use of traditional contracts, where clients retain consultants, and can ask for a clerk of works to supervise more thoroughly than a visiting building inspector.

Main contractors may tighten up their relationships with specialist trades, bringing some in-house or forming alliances with trusted subcontractors. There could also be a shift towards the Construction Management form, with clients who see that risk is best handled by skilled management rather than by offloading responsibilities down the supply chain.

Risks to the final cost and time of a project are now joined by much more focus on the safety of design and construction, for site workers, maintainers and occupants. The success for the Construction Design and Management safety regulations in cutting injuries and deaths on site could set a template for this more holistic approach to whole-life risk by placing the client in the prime duty-holder position.