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Competence Steering Group report focuses on culture change in built environment

29 January 2024

THE COMPETENCE Steering Group (CSG) – the cross-sector cohort charged with raising standards for those working in safety-critical occupations in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire – has issued a new report urging companies and individuals alike to adopt new competence practices and measures with a view towards creating a safer built environment.

‘A Higher Bar: Achieving a Competence-led Built Environment’ sets out the significant steps being made across the built environment and fire sectors when it comes to improving skills, knowledge and behaviours, driving culture change and improving the safety of buildings.

The report – the CSG’s third, in fact – also sets out the next steps as the Group looks to accelerate the roll-out of the new competence requirements and systems across the built environment’s workforce.

New standards, competence frameworks, accreditation procedures and, indeed, learning materials have been developed by the CSG’s Working Groups and taken forward by the British Standards Institution and other bodies.

Laying the foundations

The CSG was established five years ago by the Industry Response Group and, since then, has been expertly chaired by Construction Industry Council (CIC) CEO Graham Watts OBE, with the CIC acting as the administrator. 

Watts commented: “We have laid the foundations of a new infrastructure for skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours. Coupled with strong legislation and enforcement, these new standards, frameworks and assessments, which have been developed by industry for industry, should help move us to a higher level.”

Further, Watts observed: “There’s still a long way to go. As we move into the implementation phase, it’s incumbent on those working in all professions and trades deemed to be life-critical disciplines to attain these higher levels of competence. Only then can we rebuild the trust of those who occupy and live in the buildings we design, construct and manage.”

CSG milestones

The CSG has presided over several milestones during its short existence.

A national suite of competence standards was developed through BSI Flex 8670. In addition, PAS 8671, PAS 8672 and PAS 8673 have been introduced for the three regulated roles (ie principal contractor, principal designer and building safety manager.

Approvement in principle has been granted for further PAS (focused on construction products and fire risk assessors) and a new British Standard (the Organisation Capability Management System Standard: Managing Competence).

On that note, a framework of competence standards addresses the need to provide specific requirements for individual disciplines. All Working Groups have developed either complete or partial competency frameworks.

Working Groups – and their associated professional trade bodies – have published 30 guides across the various Working Groups in addition to delivering key information.

Arrangements have been put in place for independent assessment and reassessment against the competence standards, the Building Safety Alliance has been established and the Safety Case/Safety Management Systems frameworks developed.

Government policy

The CSG has been instrumental in shaping Government policy. That work has included securing the setting up of the Industry Competence Committee within the Building Safety Regulator at the Health and Safety Executive and making it a requirement within the Building Safety Act 2002 for duty holders to employ competent individuals.

Going forward, the CSG is to become an independent sub-group of the Building Safety Regulator’s Industry Competence Committee and will be renamed the Industry Competence Steering Group (ICSG).

Hanna Clarke (digital and policy manager at the Construction Products Association and chair of the CSG’s Working Group 12 covering construction product competence) is now taking over the chair’s role from Graham Watts. Gill Hancock (head of qualifications and standards at the Association for Project Management and chair of Working Group 10: Project Managers) now becomes the ICSG’s deputy chair.

Hanna Clarke said: “The CSG broke new ground in bringing so many siloed sectors together in unprecedented collaboration. Th ICSG’s task will be to build on this, bringing in more disciplines and stakeholders and increasing our engagement and visibility.”

Clarke added: “The new relationship with the Industry Competence Committee and the Building Safety Regulator will provide an excellent opportunity for the Group to test its work against critical friends. Ultimately, the aim is to establish a new culture such that every member of the supply chain – from designers all the way through to maintenance contractors – demonstrates competence in working safely.”

Pivotal step

Jon Vanstone, chair of the Industry Competence Committee, has welcomed publication of the new report.

“The document is a pivotal step in advancing building safety standards,” affirmed Vanstone. “It sets a new benchmark in competence for the construction industry, aligning with the critical directives outlined by Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety and the Building Safety Act 2022).

Vanstone added: “The report represents a collective commitment to elevating safety through enhanced skills, knowledge and behaviours standards across all sectors. We are at a transformative juncture. ‘A Higher Bar’ is a blueprint for a safer and more responsible future in building practices. I would like to congratulate all involved with its production under the effective leadership of Graham Watts.”

*Copies of ‘A Higher Bar: Achieving a Competence-led Built Environment’ can be downloaded online for free. Hard copies may be pre-ordered