New risk assessment attitude rings changes

The implications of the Grenfell Tower disaster are obviously going to be felt in construction for years to come, and the inquiries, possible criminal prosecutions and civil actions will be capturing headlines outside the industry for a long time.

Around 225 tower blocks across the country had already failed post Grenfell fire tests when we went to press so it is already clear that there will have to be major changes in the way multi-storey blocks are designed and built as a new attitude towards risk assessment rightly takes hold.

In our last issue (CL Vol 28 No 6) we welcomed the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) setting up an investigation into build quality in the industry in the wake of the Edinburgh schools scandal, to which Grenfell Tower has added urgency. A Past Presidents Commission is being chaired by immediate past president Paul Nash who said an urgent review of the way in which quality is managed in the industry was called for.

We welcomed the CIOB admission that a quality assurance problem exists and argued that other professional bodies need to respond and cooperate to pin down what has gone wrong with quality assurance processes in UK construction. A cross-industry approach is needed to redeem the industry’s reputation, we argued.

So it is good to hear that a cross-industry response is now being organised in the form of a post-Grenfell industry response group, comprising the Construction Industry Council (CIC), Build UK and the Construction Products Association (CPA), announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government on Thursday, 13 July.

The group has been created by the government to lead the industry response to the Grenfell fire and the work currently underway to ensure the fire safety of buildings, a Construction Leadership Council (CLC) statement said. It will include all relevant parts of the supply chain, enabling the industry to support public and private sector clients in delivering safer buildings.

We also suggested last issue that a return to a clerk of works type approach to site supervision might have avoided the Edinburgh schools quality assurance related problems, although it is uncertain yet to what extent the Grenfell Tower disaster was caused by failings of that sort.

All parts of the industry will be expressing views on what to do over the coming months, possibly years, and one of the first opportunities for views to be expressed was provided by MPs of the All Party Parliamentary Group for London’s Planning & Built Environment which sponsored a meeting in Westminster in July to listen to opinions from architects and other construction related professionals about the direction of future changes to the way that social housing in particular is procured.

The call for a clerk of works approach to quality assurance was echoed at the Westminster meeting by Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) executive director Adrian Dobson, who said the Grenfell fire was catastrophic, and called for an inquiry to examine procurement and whether the fire services are being consulted sufficiently when multi-storey blocks are designed.

‘There is no line of responsibility from initial design through to completion, no “clerk of works” who in past times would oversee things,’ he said. That line of responsibility must be restored.

Nick Barrett