Meeting different regulatory requirements is a nightmare for plumbers and a serious problem for everyone else in the construction industry. But there is a better way.
The communities department is keen to reform the Building Regulations and so is everybody else – Building, the industry, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. The department is serious in its intent and has commissioned consultants to carry out a review. They should be reporting soon.
Over the past few months Building has run a campaign to reform the regs, which have become unwieldy and riddled with duplication and inconsistencies. As a result, enforcement has become erratic. But the picture does not end there. Duplication and inconsistencies have sprung up between the Building Regulations and other related rules, such as those covering fire, water, gas and the CDM regulations. And the regulatory authorities for these are different; for example, water companies enforce water regulations whereas local authorities enforce the Building Regulations.
The question is: where do we start to reform the regs? The Building Regulations were introduced to promote public safety but in recent years their scope has been expanded. Issues such as disabled access, sustainability and quality standards in design and construction have changed their shape.
The communities department believes the regulations should be used to drive up standards. In this sense they are being used as barriers to entry to the construction industry. “Competent persons schemes” have been introduced to enable self-certification by firms, provided the relevant standards are adhered to.
These developments are to be applauded, but they highlight much of what is wrong with the regs: the requirements relating to competence are wholly inconsistent. For example, under Part B, which deals with fire performance, there is no insistence on the objective assessment of competence. On the other hand, for Part L, which deals with energy saving, a certain level of competence is required for issuing a report.
Competence requirements under the various regimes are also different – if you are a plumber, this is a nightmare. You may have to satisfy requirements under Building Regulations, be registered with Corgi (covering gas) and qualify as an approved plumber under the water regulations.
If you’re a competent person, this should suffice for most regulations and it’s always possible to have add-ons to accommodate specific requirements
At the same time you will have to be a TrustMark firm and on this list of Constructionline, as well as that of many others. And if you work for Carillion you must also be approved by National Britannia to show you are competent in health and safety. Need I go on?
In reforming the regs the priority should be to harmonise all requirements in the Building Regulations and related regulations that govern standards, qualifications and competence. There is probably a common core to all these.
This brings me to the next point. I have mentioned competent persons schemes – why don’t we develop these so they embrace all the various requirements? If you’re a competent person, this should suffice for most regulations and it is always possible to have add-ons to accommodate the requirements specific to any of the regs.
In a nutshell, let’s have a single identifiable badge that will be a passport for compliance across the regs. Furthermore, let’s define rather more clearly the activities for which the regs should have mandatory competence requirements in order to secure consistency.
All this would have a big impact on the enforcement process. Enforcement should become more effective which will, in turn, help to drive out the cowboys.
Rudi Klein is a barrister and chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group