Clayton Kingman is UK head of building envelope at SIG Distribution
In an industry where cost is always a priority, we have developed a culture of doing enough to meet standards, but we’re not focused on developing the expertise or investment to do better than “just enough”.
The recently introduced Building Safety Act is an opportunity for the construction industry to, literally, rebuild its reputation by demonstrating that it is about much more than quickest and cheapest.
The act provides the entire construction supply chain with an opportunity to change its culture from doing just enough to one of delivering better, safer buildings in the best possible way.
“The design of any building-envelope system will inevitably involve putting together products that were not originally designed to work together for a specific application”
While the main focus of the act is on higher-risk buildings (HRBs), I believe that it presents us with an opportunity to apply additional rigour to the delivery of all buildings.
It is a big shift in mindset, but as suppliers, installers and designers we need to be asking: have we done everything we could have to deliver the best possible outcome under the circumstances?
In considering the answer to that question, it might help to think about how you would be able to explain your specification decision to a judge. If you read the Building Safety Act like you would read the Health and Safety Regulations, it is terrifying. Did you follow the right procedures? Did this lead you to make the right specification decisions? If so, you should be able to justify why you came to that decision.
This is not an easy scenario – no one can realistically hope to have an expert understanding of every product or combination of products available.
Working with the supply chain
The design and specification of any building-envelope system, for example, will inevitably involve putting together products and components that were not originally designed to work together for a specific application. Selecting and combining the various elements that together make up the envelope without compromising the performance of any of them is not straightforward.
Reaching the right solution requires the entire supply chain to work together to deliver the best possible outcome. Following the Code for Construction Product Information provides assurance that product information is up to date, accurate and supported by relevant performance test data.
Another key element of the Building Safety Act is competency. The act places a requirement on all those in the construction industry (and not simply those working on HRBs) to be competent to do their job properly – that includes designers, contractors and anyone carrying out any design or building work, including product distributors and manufacturers. A competent person must be able to demonstrate the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviour necessary to design, build and supply a scheme in accordance with all relevant requirements.
Of course, for HRBs the choice of envelope system is even more critical. That is because once a design has received gateway two approval from the Building Safety Regulator, any subsequent change to the specification may also need approval by the regulator (a process that can take up to six weeks) before work can proceed on site.
While this may make the threat and cost of potential delay through value engineering less attractive, it also places an onus on procurement teams to ensure that products specified for an HRB will be available when required, as last-minute substitutions will not be an option.