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The Building Safety Bill: An Opportunity for Change

07 March 2022

THE ELECTRICAL Contractors’ Association (ECA) and the Fire and Security Association welcome the Building Safety Bill, but the industry should grasp the opportunity to raise training and electrical safety standards, writes Mike Smith.

When Dame Judith Hackitt conducted the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017, it quickly became apparent that there was a construction industry in need of major and urgent improvement. The Building Safety Bill that resulted from the Independent Review will be enacted at some point in 2023, with a range of regulations and standards brought forward to support it.

The ECA is working with many other parties including the Fire and Security Association, the Joint Industry Board and the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that the Building Safety Bill delivers on the promise of safer buildings.

The ECA welcomes the new standards of competence that will be required from our sector and across the wider construction and maintenance arenas in general. We believe the best way to achieve this is with robust training and competence standards, all supported by clear requirements for electrical safety checks.

For example, as part of Working Group 2 (the Competence Steering Groups focused on installers), both the ECA and the FSA are helping to shape the future of training and competence in our sector. The aim is to develop a framework of qualifications and experience that will eventually be presented for approval to the new Industry Competence Committee to be set up in support of the planned Building Safety Act. This has included the development of pilot frameworks, including one of the first for the fire alarms industry.

Robust qualifications

We’re keen to ensure that future regulation requires robust qualifications for the electrical and fire systems sectors, with a focus on apprenticeships and a model that’s based on skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours. This is embodied in BSI Flex 8670 (Built Environment: Core criteria for building safety in competence frameworks – Code of Practice).

Flex 8670 is a framework that the ECA, the FSA and others would like to see delivered as soon as possible. We don’t believe that, even on an annual basis, short courses and the assessment of individual competence can deliver the spirit or intent of the ‘wish list’ emanating from Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review. The overriding intent is to improve our industry, and its outputs, from the ground up.

Another important reason to focus on training as a career-long commitment is the ever-changing technology in the construction industry. Assessment demonstrates a certain type of knowledge at a single point in time, but what happens later when a tradesperson meets a new technology or methodology? That’s where robust theory and the ability to apply knowledge in a range of situations are crucial.

These requirements are growing as the demands on our sector change. For example, electricians who usually work in the domestic sector may also find themselves working on a mixed-use development that’s over 18 metres high. These are very complex buildings, with prescriptive methods of fire and evacuation prevention and safety about which a domestic electrician may have little or no experience.

Application of knowledge and skills

What we should be doing is training people to be able to apply their knowledge and skills in different applications and different types of building. This doesn’t only benefit the industry. It also makes buildings safer for occupants. Further, it extends the working capability of individuals, providing a valuable and more flexible skillset for their whole career.

This means that, even with apprenticeships, we need to ensure that our people keep up with developments in technologies and standards. This is something that Dame Judith Hackitt specifically mentioned in her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety (ie individuals working on buildings need to understand the latest regulations such that they can apply them correctly).

This is why, in working with industry partners, the ECA and the FSA advocate that the new Building Safety Regulator should include requirements for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) within all sector competence frameworks. We will need an industry-agreed mandatory level of CPD that requires employers to keep their members of staff up-to-date when it comes to learning. It isn’t simply about installers collecting CPD points, but rather about having the applicable knowledge to carry out their work with confidence and competence, increasing safety, quality and productivity as a result.

Electrical safety

Of course, the Building Safety Bill isn’t all about training and qualifications. There are several other areas of electrical safety which we’re looking to reinforce in the Bill and, indeed, its subsequent secondary regulations.

For example, the ECA and the FSA are endeavouring to broaden the requirement for electrical safety checks for buildings included in the Building Safety Bill (ie dwellings over 18 metres). We want these to extend from the private rented sector across all tenures, since many taller buildings now include private dwellings, social housing and the private rented sector.

Along with one of our key partners, namely Electrical Safety First, the ECA also supports moves to bolster the safety of electrical household appliances with a clamp-down on the sale of dangerous electrical products through online marketplaces. Further, hospitals and care homes over 18 metres tall are currently covered by the Building Safety Bill. The National Fire Chiefs Committee would like these types of building to be included regardless of building height, and the ECA is very much in support of this proposal.

The Building Safety Bill is expected to deliver a seismic shake-up of our industry, the likes of which most of us will not have seen in our careers. While this comes with many challenges, it’s also an opportunity to improve safety and quality standards across the board and consolidate excellence in our industry. We should work together to grasp it.

Mike Smith is Technical Director at the Electrical Contractors’ Association (www.eca.co.uk)