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National standards programme set to raise professional competence in built environment sector

03 August 2020

IN ITS role as the UK’s national standards body, the British Standards Institution (BSI) has announced a new national standards programme designed to raise professional competence in the built environment sector.

The standards aim to tackle the competence challenges identified by Dame Judith Hackitt during the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety and outlined in the Building a Safer Future document. They are a part of the package of measures recommended by the Steering Group on Competence for Building a Safer Future (CSG) which were set out in Raising the Bar.

The Government-funded programme is designed to support the delivery of regulatory policy and the new regulated roles responsible for building safety set out in the Building Safety Bill, while also enabling the large-scale industry-led programme to raise competency across the sector.

It includes an overarching competence framework standard for everyone working on a building. This is intended to be used by key professions and trades including designers, contractors, fire risk assessors, building managers and others in specialist technical or corporate roles. The framework will provide a set of core principles of competence, including leading and managing safety, communicating safety, delivering safety, risk management, regulations and processes, building systems, ethics and fire/life safety.

The framework will be developed and made available for use from this autumn. After three periods of public consultation and refinement, it will then be published as a British Standard.

It will also include a set of competence requirements for the three newly-regulated roles: principal designer, principal contractor and building safety manager. A set of fast-track PAS standards will be produced to meet the urgent need for competent individuals to fulfil these roles set out in the Government’s new Bill in order to ensure the safety of residents.

These key roles have overarching responsibility for the main activities affecting building and life safety at each stage of a building’s life-cycle: design, construction and operation. They require enhanced competences in addition to any discipline-related competences, relating to their overarching role to ensure that the design intent of a given building is maintained and that workers employed and used in its design, construction, refurbishment, maintenance and operation are suitably competent.

Change in culture

Scott Steedman, director of standards at the BSI, said: “Dame Judith Hackitt’s report asked the built environment industry to change its culture to safeguard people and their properties. In response to the call to put clear responsibility at the heart of the system, the BSI has launched the Professional Competence standards programme. The new industry-led standards will support the Building Safety Bill by ‘raising the bar’ across workforce competence.”

Dame Judith Hackitt responded: “The work of the Competence Steering Group has been a tour de force and all of those who’ve been involved thus far are to be congratulated. As the baton is handed over to the BSI to lead us through the standards development process, the whole industry needs to keep up the pace, not just to agree on the new standards, but also to make them a reality in practice. That will require collaboration and co-operation and the demolition of silos. This is part of the culture change that’s so urgently needed.”

Graham Watts OBE, chair of the Competence Steering Group and CEO at the Construction Industry Council, added: “This new stakeholder-led national standards programme is a welcome and vital next step in raising and setting the bar for enhanced competence standards for all those engaged in ensuring that buildings are safe for their residents and occupants through the design and construction or refurbishment phases and into the management of buildings in use. It builds upon the framework of occupational competences across all sectors that the Competence Steering Group has developed over the past two years.”

Building Safety Minister Lord Greenhalgh commented: “This Government is determined to put residents’ safety first by bringing about the biggest improvements in building safety regulations in 40 years. Regulatory reforms alone will not achieve this, though. We need to raise skills across the industry, backed by a strong national competence framework, and we’re working together with the BSI and industry to make this happen. We welcome the expertise they bring to the vital work of raising standards of competence to make sure all residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes.”

Since the standardisation programme began in April, it has been overseen by a newly-established BSI Built Environment Competence Standards (BECS) Strategy Group. This consists of strategic, senior-level technical and policy experts from a broad range of organisations involved in the design, construction and management of higher risk buildings. The programme will run until 2022.

*To find out more about Built Environment Professional Competence Standards visit https://www.bsigroup.com/built-environment-competence-standards-uk