Grenfell report author says ‘widespread culture of indifference’ in construction remains

Grenfell tower wrapped subtle shutterstock

Dame Judith Hackitt, the author of the post-Grenfell report on building regulations and fire safety, has slammed those in the construction industry who worry more about the cost of a new competency system than the building safety regime it could create.

Speaking to Building yesterday at an Industry Response Group conference in London convened to discuss recommendations of the Competency Steering Group’s (CSG) 149-page Raising the Bar report, Hackitt said she had heard a delegate ask whether “the size of the regulatory burden was worth the benefit?”.

An exasperated Hackitt added: “I wondered ‘how can you ask such a thing?’ This is about this industry getting to where it should have been, not about whether the cost is worth the candle. This is about a big culture change that absolutely must happen.”

Hackitt said progress across the sector had been “encouraging” but the industry was still “not moving fast enough”. There had been a “widespread culture of indifference and ignorance” in some parts of the construction sector and “no real sense about what matters”, while some contractors had wanted to “just finish the job and not care about the quality aspect”.

And she expressed disappointment that the CITB had not engaged more with the CSG’s 13 working groups. “Surely it makes sense for this to be an industry-wide process. The CITB should be a part of that.”

Responding to Hackitt’s comments, Steve Radley, the CITB strategy and policy director, said his organisation was already working closely with the installers’ and site supervisors’ working groups while also starting development of a training standard for core fire safety for those working in high-rise residential buildings.

“We are happy to engage with a fuller range of working groups if this will help to ensure a consistent response to the Industry Safety Steering Group’s recommendations.

“However, we need to agree with the ISSG the best way to do this as these working groups cover occupations beyond our remit and have different approaches to establishing competence.”

Hackitt said the introduction of any new competency system ought to be phased, with high risk residential buildings (HRRB) taking priority.

“The biggest risk is the scope question, because the bigger the scope the more challenging it will be to implement this. That is not to say that over time I would not want to see good practice filter down to every single aspect of all buildings [but] this is a culture change that should start with the highest hazards and risks – HRRB.”

While she said the system would eventually need to cover buildings like those recently affected by fires at Barking in east London and at Worcester Park in south-west London, she added: “I think we have to recognise that this is a project to be managed and that you have to do it in a number of stages. Let’s get it right and let’s get it working on the most important and highest risks first and then extend it.”

And she criticised what she called moves to “dilute” the role of building safety manager and turn it more into a safety co-ordinator role.

She added: “The industry has to change and it has to deliver. Many people out there need to know that we are doing all we can to make their homes safer.”

Comments on the CSG’s interim report have to be submitted by 31 October and the final document is expected to be published by the end of the year or early in 2020.