CIC Blog: 2021

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The climate within construction is changing…

Matt Mahony
Policy & Public Affairs Executive
Construction Industry Council

The last couple of years have shown the stark consequences of climate change inaction and emphasised it is not just a problem for the ‘Global South’. We’ve seen deadly wildfires in the US and Australia and a recent ‘heat dome’ which sent a heatwave of nearly 50C to usually temperate regions in the North West Canada. If this has seemed a little remote, then the severe flooding across Western Europe has been a timely reminder of worsening problems.

As an industry, no one wants to be complicit in creating agricultural refugees, roasting temperatures and unpredictable weather conditions. With future global heating ‘baked in’ from current carbon emissions, adaptation in the built environment is a necessity but at the moment the broader costs of dramatically reducing emissions will be nothing compared to the impacts of the pandemic over the past year and a half, hence the renewed push to ‘build back better’.

And build we do. Globally we build the equivalent of a city the size of Paris every week. So should we be building at all?

I will say ‘Yes’, but things have to change. In construction I see an industry that needs direction but more positively than that I see an industry that – unlike many others – is serious about pushing forward and holding itself to account. I see professionals dependent on building for their livelihoods still able to offer objective solutions. I see an industry that is beginning to understand that it is no longer OK to say you just didn’t know.

It is true that there are those in the construction that intentionally drag their feet, but it is increasingly clear that these are the exception, rather than the rule.

I’ve seen some promising things since joining the CIC. I already know we have CIC members that are embedding a deep understanding of the climate crisis within their business strategy and many supporting much more purposeful legislation from government.

RIBA and others recently got a lot of media coverage from looking at embodied carbon and urging government to support refurbishing old buildings rather than demolishing them because of the carbon emissions embodied in constructing a replacement building. Other groups have suggested adding a ‘Part Z’ to Building Regulations to track and limit the full Carbon footprint of a development. These proposals have implications beyond climate change too. Defra estimates that each year we send 5 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste to landfill and 26 million tonnes of excavation waste is not recovered.

Halting all demolition will never be the answer – old buildings were rarely designed to last forever or meet all future needs - but there is a need to find a balance, built on knowledge, that can lead us through the climate emergency and set an example. And we know that there are two things that won’t work for us - building nothing or doing nothing.

One thing I’m particularly encouraged to see is the short timelines for engagement and action within the CIC’s climate change action plan. As former Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart once said, “Plans without dates are better than dates without plans”. A shorter timeline breeds accountability and focus which is the only way that the meaningful big picture targets can be realised. I’ve been around enough to see government departments come and go (remember DECC, anyone) and initiatives such as the Green Deal for Home Improvement flounder because of a lack of direction and support.

The UK’s hosting of COP 26 this year should represent a milestone in construction industry action around climate change and will now feature a day dedicated to the carbon emissions from the built environment on Thursday 11th November. CIC will of course be getting involved. By then I hope we’ll see something from government to dispel that any impression Number 10 is ‘always here for the harvest and never about for the ploughing’.

Contributor: Matt Mahony is the Policy and Public Affairs Executive at the Construction Industry Council 

The CIC Climate Change Action Plan is available to download here. If you want to find out more about the CIC Climate Change Committee, contact mmahony@cic.org.uk.

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Carbon Zero: the professional institutions’ climate action plan

Stephen Hodder MBE
Deputy Chair
CIC

In June 2019, under the aegis of the Edge think tank, 25 built and natural environment organisations met at the RIBA with the Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, to discuss the need for action in the face of climate change. Those attending agreed on an urgent and concerted response to achieving the UK’s 2050 net zero carbon emissions target; to continue to work together to establish shared standards and practice; and to continue to develop professional resources and capacity.

In parallel, the Construction Industry Council, the umbrella forum for professional bodies, research organisations and specialist business associations established a working group to elevate the climate change and biodiversity emergency in its agenda.

Our Council meeting held in November that year heard from many member institutions as to their respective policies on this critical matter. Inevitably, some policies were less developed than others, as were action plans. It was inevitable I guess that there were degrees of overlap and duplication. What was abundantly clear was that, given the scale of the imperative, the need for collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and workload to upskill the professions was essential…and reinforced the outcome from the Edge roundtable.

The CIC issued a joint statement on the Climate Change and Biodiversity Emergency in early 2020, with most of our members agreeing on the urgent need for action.

Carbon Zero: the professional institutions’ climate action plan represents the first concerted output from this commitment; a plan for real action in the face of the climate and biodiversity emergencies, a plan capable of delivering on net zero. The Action Plan has received overwhelming support from 29 institutions and the seven largest engineering and built environment firms in the UK.

The timetable for action is very short, as laid out in December 2020 in the Sixth Carbon Budget: The UK’s path to Net Zero published by the Climate Change Committee and accepted by the UK government in April this year. The UK construction industry has a very significant role to play and needs to act now to put in place the necessary measures to be able to meet its obligations towards the UK achieving its targets to reduce energy demand and carbon emissions, including delivering net zero new buildings no later than 2025.

Actions

The Action Plan will prepare built environment professionals for making the long-discussed transition to becoming an effective and digitally enabled, able to deliver on the challenges and obligations ahead, including the important need to respond to the building safety agenda and delivering safe outcomes.

The Plan identifies 10 areas of work, which embrace cross-cutting interests, developed in close collaboration with a diverse range of institutions, organisations, and individuals. The 10 workstreams, each led by an institution or organisation with vested knowledge, have been developed through a process that has included:

  • Mapping out the roles and responsibilities of the thirty or so CIC members in each workstream, identifying what they can and need to do to ensure their members are actively engaging with the aims of the Plan.
  • Compiling a summary of current activities by CIC members and others, relating to achieving the aims of the Plan
  • Identifying synergies in CIC members’ and others’ activities
  • Identifying gaps and necessary additional activity, for example, the means for assessing what good looks like by way of benchmarking, targets, and case studies
  • Collaborating with each other wherever required, both within and outside the CIC membership.

The actions have been divided into three priority groupings: short-term, medium term and longer term. They will be commenced immediately, achieved within the next 2 to 3 years and be established and consolidated within the next 5 years, respectively. The medium-term objective is for the professional institutions to enable all built environment professionals to become energy and carbon advocates –whatever their discipline – using PI members’ professional standards as the mechanism to initiate up-skilling, ultimately making low carbon competency a mandatory element of being a built and natural environment professional. In the longer-term, the great majority of built environment professionals; properly supported by legislation and standards, guidance, tools, training, and education; must be fully able to design a functional and safe environment with minimum use of resources and achieve net zero carbon reduction targets for all their significant projects.

This will be mirrored in the far greater regulatory focus on CPD and competence that the new, post-Grenfell, building safety regime will introduce and the timeline for implementation will need to align with the deadlines for action required under that new system.

To support the Action Plan the professional institutions and other signatories will establish an interorganisational climate action network for the purpose of promoting, and engaging, climate action among their members and they will develop and implement proposals for monitoring and reporting on progress against the Action Plan through the CIC.

It is recognised that the professional institutions will require the involvement of government, outside organisations, companies, and individuals, but they have an essential leadership and enabling role. In response to this, actions are divided into those that the professional institutions can accomplish by themselves or acting together, and those that require engagement with the wider industry.

The actions by themselves are not sufficient for the scale of the challenge, but they are essential, and will take the construction sector closer to the start of its transition to becoming an effective and digitally enabled industry, able to deliver on the challenges and obligations ahead.

There is no time to lose, and this unprecedented institutional alliance will bring collective skills, knowledge, and influence in support of the necessary changes critical to the decarbonisation of the construction industry.

We now need to start delivering on the actions.

Contributor: Stephen Hodder MBE is Deputy Chair of CIC and Chairman of Hodder + Partners

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We *love* lifelong learning, but a gap remains to support undergraduates into industry roles

Josie Rothera
Consultant trainer, chartered civil engineer and director of STEER

The Queen’s speech on 12 May was met with support from the built environment sector.  Intentions to ‘level-up’, strengthen transport routes and simplified procurement practices meant positive steps for all types of built environment businesses, supported by Bills. 

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill was of key interest to us at STEER Mentoring and Support CIC: a legislation that seeks to encourage lifetime skills engagement by promoting accessible education and training.  Included in this Bill are reforms to the current student loans system, repositioning employers to lead input into training programmes and the ongoing design of new T Level courses.

A great driver for the new Bill was the statistic that “50 per cent of young people who do not go to university have been historically deprived of the chance to find their vocation and develop a fulfilling, well-paid career”.  It is important that this is addressed for all sectors.

However, a gap remains around how we support our undergraduates into the industry.  At a time where students are finding it hard to secure work placements, or any sort of work experience, and are coming into an industry that is still restarting and resetting from the pandemic, why is this group still being overlooked?  The reform in the Skills White Paper set out:

The challenges of the last year highlight the need to rethink and rebuild, bringing our skills and education system closer to the employer market and widening the opportunities that are available for all as we build back better from the pandemic. A third of working-age undergraduates are not in highly skilled employment, and in 2019 employers were unable to fill a quarter of their vacancies due to a lack of employees with the right skills.

The Graduate Outcomes published in 2020 found 78% of graduates in the built environment are working in high skilled occupations, and over two thirds in professional body aligned occupations, however this is still short of the estimated annual recruitment rate from the CSN 2019-23 Report.  15% of graduates also thought that they were not using what they learnt from their university courses.  A better understanding of this could equip course teams to identify areas for improvement in their delivery.

Experience on your CV is becoming a must for employers and this is so relevant to the built environment.  Having an appreciation of roles, practices and delivery modes will set one undergraduate from another.  A year out in industry is valuable, but not everyone has the opportunity to do this – so how do we support undergraduates to industry?

Mentoring is a great way for informal, friendly insights to the industry.  It allows you to explore more the roles and opportunities, and importantly helps start your professional network.  Mentors often give their time freely, over and above their day jobs, and that is because they have a passion for their work and making sure that more people choose a career in the industry.  They can also help shape degree course programmes to ensure relevance to current practice.

If you are mentoring, great!  If you are not seeking opportunities to help undergraduates, then, could you?  They need our support now more than ever – and we need them! 

Contributor: Josie Rothera as a Consultant trainer, chartered civil engineer and director of STEER

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Central Government Procurement Policy on Social Value

Claire Louise Chapman
Managing Director
The Shared Value Business

Not for the faint hearted this one: Crown Commercial Services: Procurement Policy Note 06/20 Social Value in the Award of Central Government Contracts.  With 1st January came the central government requirement that Social Value is to be applied to all new procurements.

So, what does this mean in practice? What is being required is that social value is ‘explicitly evaluated’ in all central government procurement – this includes central gov departments, their executive agencies and non departmental public bodies - 573 distinct organisations in total. It’s anticipated that £49bn of public spending annually will be potentially affected, impacting every market government buys from.

‘Explicit’ evaluation means that commercial teams within these organisations must select social objectives which are relevant and proportionate to their procurement activity, and a minimum weighting of 10% of the total score should be applied.

A Guide to using the Social Value Model has been created, and a set of Themes and Outcomes for Social Value is annexed to PPN06/20. So we’re not short of guidance but this is pretty new stuff for everyone, both for those who are commissioning social value, and those designing tender responses and ultimately responsible for delivering social value.

In a nutshell, the ‘Themes and Outcomes’ sit within BIG headings, like ‘Fighting Climate Change’. Activities are then suggested that organisations can deliver to address these BIG issues.

In practice though, Social Value should be relevant and proportionate to the type and value of contract activity. So, the first challenge is for the procuring team to decide which Themes and Outcomes are relevant for the contract they are tendering, the second challenge is for those responding to tenders to decide which activities will add the most social value, are deliverable, and will differentiate them from competitors.

Understanding the macro environment that you work in is vital. For public procurers that will include a socio-economic assessment and/or an assessment of demographics based on the specific social priorities of your department, cross referenced against Themes and Outcomes priorities (and discussed with internal clients for their opinion of what ‘good’ social value related to their area of activity looks like).

For businesses on the other hand, it’s about understanding how existing and new operational processes can add maximum social value without completely reinventing the wheel for each new contract.

I spend much of my time working with clients to help them understand how to structure Social Value activities to work to their strengths. Yes, this is going to require new ways of working, but most organisations are surprised by how much ‘unstructured’ Social Value they already deliver.

The key, frequently is in structuring, recording and communicating this activity for both commercial and community benefit. Successful contractors will demonstrate both an understanding of Social Value, and a project plan and process for delivery of social value activity which will be monitored and evaluated for impact.

Contributor: Claire Louise Chapman is a Social Value Consultant, supporting any organisation to respond to Social Value now required within government contracting. https://www.thesharedvaluebusiness.co.uk/
Claire Louise Chapman FICRS | LinkedIn

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A bloke like me

Ray Bone
Managing Director - ABBEY
President Elect - The Association for Project Safety

My name is Ray Bone. Some of you may know me and be familiar with the Association for Project Safety. I’m the next in line to be the association’s President and I’ve been working in design and construction risk management – the APS’s core purpose – for longer than my youthful good looks would have you believe.

I’m known to be a straight-talking sort of person and I’m not going to beat about the bush when I say the construction industry needs to step up and we all need to take better care of one another. The industry’s not got the best reputation for looking after its people – despite all the work and good intentions across the country. It’s high time we got a grip on mental health in the workplace as it’s probably killing more people than falls and accidents and breathing in dust put together.

There are things in life that’ll give you nightmares long after they’ve happened. I was a fireman for nine years before I came to work in construction so, maybe, I know more than most about how people react in macho industries where you don’t want to look like a softie in front of your mates.  

We all had ways of coping with the things we saw – the camaraderie was great and black humour was common. But, for some, there were destructive distractions too. It’s all too easy for that single malt helping you sleep grow into a bottle-a-day dependency. The online flutter at four in the morning - after you’ve witnessed the death of a child - turn into an addiction that puts your home at risk. And the continual stress of call-outs and casualties tip into depression. I’ve seen many people go down those roads - and it’s not always the guys you think who’ll suffer.

Mental health is a difficult topic to broach, especially in a sector - like construction - where there’s an imbalance of men working together, people are often away from home for long periods and no one wants to appear weak. And it’s not like construction has the world’s best reputation for its work practices – I get involved with loads of investigations for the HSE and, believe me, I’ve seen the lot.

But - bad practice apart - the enemy is, mostly, within.

My old employer, the fire service, is brilliant at offering help and counselling – people just aren’t so good at taking it up. There are times when saying no to help just makes you your own worst enemy. Take if from someone who once spent a very dark night hunting for the head of a man decapitated in a car crash: I’ve been there. We’d all sit around when the counselling was being offered - trying to look like we were sleeping right and eating properly - and, right there in front of our crew, we’d all say we were doing fine.

We were lying – to our employer, our colleagues, our families - and to ourselves.

That’s why, when I was asked to host the APS’s Spring conference Building the future of workplace mental health I jumped at the opportunity. I know what’s it’s like to turn down support when I needed it and I am determined to speak out now – especially after the year we’ve had – to do what I can to help others - and to help businesses spot the signs of someone struggling before, as they used to say in the adverts, a problem becomes a crisis.

APS would like to invite you to come along to Building the future of workplace mental health on Wednesday 12 May 2021.  

The APS’s first ever one-day mental health conference is going to take a very positive look at it all. If it makes it any easier it’s online so no one - except our booking system – even needs know you’ve come along. Anyway, it’s not going to be gloom and doom. APS is bringing together people from construction to talk about what‘s worked for them and to hear from people running successful programmes that offer a beacon of hope for people in crisis.

APS is putting on the event with Mates in Mind and we’ll have someone there from the Lighthouse Club so you can see we are serious about getting people all the help that’s out there. You’ll also hear from experts dealing first-hand with some of the things that tip people over the edge – specialists in addiction recovery and debt management. And you’ll get it direct from people who have survived the worst the industry can throw at them - and survived not just to tell the tale but to help us all improve how we work.

Mental health problems can happen to anyone. I know it can be awkward to start those conversations but, if we would just spend a fraction of the time and energy that goes into the splints and bandages, the pills and the potions, we’d all be better off. Poor mental health – and the practices that get us there – can be as bad for business as they are for the workers. But think about it: no one is immune – even if most of us are now vaccinated. If a bloke like me can open up, then we have a real chance of building a better future for workplace mental health for everyone.

Contributor: Ray Bone is Managing Director of ABBEY and the Preseident Elect of the Assosiation for Project Safety (APS)

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Unsocial networking: The missing art of debate

Ann Allen MBE FRICS
Chief Executive Officer
Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors

Last year, the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (CICES) became aware that several surveyors had quit social media because of abusive comments, direct messages and unsolicited images they had received following posts about their work. We spoke to our own 2040 Forum for early career members about this, and they confirmed that it was an issue many of them were facing.

CICES works closely with Get Kids into Survey, which has a global network of volunteer survey ambassadors who go into schools to talk about careers. By sharing these initial anecdotes, we soon learned that this was a widespread issue. Both Get Kids into Survey and ourselves were concerned that these experiences were becoming a barrier to entry and a reason for leaving an essential profession that already faces a skills crisis. It could also be a potential factor in the poor mental health that many construction professionals battle. We knew we had to do something, but what? We did what any good surveyor would do when faced with this kind of conundrum, we would measure it before we could manage it.

We developed a survey with the aim of working out how much of a problem we were facing and if there were any patterns in the abuse. We also wanted to garner views on what the roles of employers, professional bodies, social media platform owners, the police and government are. As interest grew, Women in Property in the UK, the National Society for Professional Surveyors in the US, and Association of Consulting Surveyors in Australia offered their support and shared the survey with their members, meaning that we were now looking at the experiences of the wider construction professions.

We received 231 responses. Of those, 51 (23%) had received abusive or negative (not constructive) comments on posts about their work. 32 had received abusive direct messages. 30 had received inappropriate images. While 146 respondents had never blocked anyone, 12 had blocked over 25 accounts, and one person had blocked over 200. 30 people had taken a break from social media after negative experiences. While the survey figures established that there is an issue, what had more of an impact were the comments that people made. Some of the experiences we heard about were frankly appalling.

There were surprises. The first being that some were questioning why a professional body should be carrying out such a survey. We were accused of interfering with free speech, which was ironic considering one of the fundamental roles of an institution is to ensure that there is active, illuminating and constructive debate about professional issues.

Another surprise was around who was more likely to experience abuse online. We had expected the majority of abuse to be aimed at women, but there were many men who were being impacted. Again, it was becoming clear that this was all about the art of respectful debate. Debate should only ever be about the issues, not the individuals – and that is something we seem to be sadly losing sight of.

It’s very easy to blame social media for the way people conduct themselves, when there is a lot of extremism today in society and politically. How some people express themselves on social media is symptomatic of this and I believe as a society we need to learn to respect ourselves more. We are facing huge challenges, and the built environment is at the heart of a lot of those, particularly climate change. We are going to need debate to test a variety of ideas to get that best outcome and we all have a responsibility to help that debate develop in a professional way.

What can a professional body do about this? The first step is to be active in the right way on social media ourselves. We need to encourage training and development for members around how to use social media effectively and represent themselves professionally on platforms like LinkedIn, and also to understand the impact of what they are posting.

We can also play a role developing guidance for individual surveyors and employers, so they know there are steps they can take when faced with abuse. Professional bodies are also employers, and we have to be alert to the public perception of what is being said about our employees and organisation. As well as reputational damage, these things can take a person’s confidence away entirely, and we need to be mindful about how we support employees facing online abuse – when aimed at themselves or the organisation – and look at what lessons we can learn from those situations. 

One respondent commented ‘most people are great’ and it is important we don’t lose sight of that.  We cannot forget that social media can be a positive tool. It is certainly here to stay. That huge talent pool we want to attract of all genders, races, social backgrounds – all of them use social media. It may be through who we encourage, who we follow, what we learn, but we will need to use social media to attract them to a profession that is full of vibrant ideas and exciting debate. None of us can afford to exclude talent, there is not enough around.

Unsocial Networking, the report from CICES and Get Kids into Survey is available online by clicking here.

Contributor:  Ann Allen MBE FRICS is the Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (CICES)

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Tackling Diabetes Safety

Kate Walker
Chief Executive & Founder
The Diabetes Safety Organisation

Diabetes affects 4.6 million people in the UK and poses health and safety risks that many individuals and companies do not recognise. As an organisation we have set up the Tackling Diabetes Safety Charter to ensure the safety of staff, the correct personal testing under DVLA regulations are adhered to and also to help companies comply with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act.

I am delighted to announce that the Construction Industry Council (CIC) have agreed to endorse the Charter along with, Diabetes UK, IOSH, Light House Club, and Gowling WLG. 

Most people have heard about diabetes as it appears regularly in the press these days but far fewer people have taken the time to truly understand the condition and know the impact it can have on individuals, colleagues and companies.

What makes diabetes a safety risk?

  • possibility of a hypoglycaemic episode
    • sudden loss of consciousness
    • acting as if drunk
  • lack of sensation in feet while driving machinery
  • impaired awareness
  • impaired concentration
  • impaired balance or co-ordination

There are two main types of diabetes

  • type 1, which develops when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. The cause of this is unknown.
  • type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and develops when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin the body is making is not being used properly.

Individual health risk from diabetes

  • blindness – diabetes is the leading cause in the working population
  • erectile dysfunction - 75% of men suffer from this at some point
  • amputation - 170 a week in the UK
  • increases risk of a heart attack
  • increased risk of a stroke
  • premature death - 500 people die a week
  • diabetic kidney disease

I am often asked, ‘why diabetes and not another specific health condition?’ The short answer is that diabetes poses not only a health and safety risk to those with the condition, but also a risk to others at work from those who are undiagnosed or not managing the symptoms. The evidence shows that there are 700 new cases of type 2 diabetes a day, that’s 1 person diagnosed every 2 minutes. There are 1 million people living with type 2 diabetes who do not know they have the condition with a further 12.6 million at high risk of developing diabetes. Surely, our aim should be to make a significant difference to people’s lives and staff safety using clear awareness campaigns, in a non-judgemental environment where everyone is able to talk openly.

As an organisation, we work with the international law firm Gowling WLG on all legal aspects of our work and they recognise the serious risk diabetes can pose to a company. "The law places a duty on all employers to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that their employees and anyone affected by what the business does, are not exposed to a risk to their health safety or wellbeing. Diabetes is a condition which gives rise to risk and therefore needs to be carefully assessed and controlled. Failure to do so could have tragic consequences and criminal implications." Andrew Litchfield, Partner, Gowling WLG.

Implications at work

  • increased time off work for those not managing their condition or those undiagnosed
  • increased risk of accidents
  • not being compliant with the Equality Act
  • not providing appropriate places to test or take injectable medications
  • not complying with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act

In the UK, the DVLA have strict guidelines in place for people with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2 who need to take insulin. The DVLA states, ‘people on insulin must check glucose levels no more than two hours before driving, followed by repeat tests during breaks for every two hours of driving.’ This helps prevent the risk of a fatal hypoglycaemic attack without imposing blanket bans as many people have their diabetes under control.

This simple measure ensures greater safety across the UK’s road network. However, these measures do not apply off road, for example, on sites, in warehouses, on production lines and on private land. I would argue that some of the largest and most dangerous machines are used in these environments and yet no safety measures for those with diabetes are applied. In our charter we encourage the adoption of this simple two hourly testing for all workers with diabetes on all types of machinery irrespective of location.

Despite the stark facts, the good news is there is much that can be done to support people living with diabetes and ensure workplaces are safer.

What can be done:

  • increase awareness and understanding of the condition
  • educate those in high risk roles
  • provide a non-judgmental environment where people feel they can talk freely about their condition (there is still a stigma about type 2 diabetes being associated with being over weight)
  • provide an appropriate place to test and take injectable medications
  • promote glucose testing according to DVLA regs for off road workers
  • ensure specific up to date diabetes safety risk assessments and safe systems for work are in place
  • encourage the one less challenge to promote healthier lifestyles

Diabetes is a manageable condition and for many at high risk of type 2 diabetes, it is preventable with early intervention and lifestyle modifications. Diabetes currently costs 10% of the NHS budget, £14 billion a year. What is the cost to your company, both in human and financial terms? I encourage you to sign up to the Tackling Diabetes Safety Charter and help make a difference to those living with diabetes and ultimately save lives.

Contributor: Kate Walker is CEO and founder of the Diabetes Safety Organisation. She is passionate about helping people with diabetes and provides support for companies to increase safety in the workplace.

 

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Better?  Greener? Faster? It must be safer

Graham Watts OBE
Chief Executive
Construction Industry Council

Sean O’Neill’s excellent opinion piece in The Times (‘A building free-for-all would betray Grenfell’, Jan 7) is a timely reminder that the PM’s exhortation to ‘build, build, build’ a recovery from the economic impact of coronavirus must not just be ‘better’, ‘greener’ and ‘faster’ but – above all else – it must be ‘safer’.

The news that the Report of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is unlikely to be made until after the fifth anniversary of the tragedy is understandable given the delays caused by coronavirus but it must not become an excuse for inaction in terms of making people safe (and feel safe) in their homes.   The two government-funded programmes for remediating unsafe cladding on tower blocks started late but they are now well underway and a Building Safety Bill – fully supported by CIC and others in the construction industry – is due to enter parliament shortly.  The HSE will host the new Building Safety Regulator and we are urging the early creation of a ‘shadow’ regulator in anticipation of the legislation being approved by parliament.

There are two major systemic issues that have to be addressed by the industry and its clients.  The first is competence.  It is absolutely essential that everyone who works on high-rise residential buildings – and, in my opinion, on any building where vulnerable people sleep – has an enhanced level of competence to be able to perform their work safely as part of a competent team.   Organisations representing the construction industry, the fire safety sector, the built environment professions and the owners and managers of the building stock came together in 2017 to develop a framework of higher level competences, across all sectors, which have been published in two reports – Raising the Bar (August 2019) and Setting the Bar (October 2020) – and it is vital that all sectors implement the recommendations of these reports, which are being backed by a new national suite of standards from the British Standards Institution and in the proposed Building Safety Bill.

The second issue is a combination of the “Race to the Bottom” that typifies the procurement of construction  and the appalling business model of a contracting supply chain industry that mostly works on low profit margins and does not receive full payment until long after the project is completed.   This sets the scene for gaming the system, poor quality, product substitution and many other bad practices and it is a system that must be overhauled. 

Grenfell was a dreadful fire tragedy.   There have been many other instances of building failure in recent years that have concerned structural safety, for example, but where – thankfully – no lives have been lost.    The industry must take action now to improve the competence of its people and to eradicate the reasons for these failures at source.      

This is a full version of a letter published in The Times on 8 January 2021

Contributor: Graham Watts is the Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Council, a Member of the MHCLG Industry Response Group and Chair of its Competence Steering Group.  

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