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What’s Next After Grenfell The Two Key Changes for UK Construction Firms and Clients

What’s Next After Grenfell? The Two Key Changes for UK Construction Firms and Clients

“We want a step change … to a proactive system where developers and building owners take responsibility for ensuring that residents are safe” – Building a Safer Future

We’re entering a new phase of safety reforms in UK construction. The tragic events at Grenfell Tower two years ago sent shockwaves throughout the industry–and the Hackitt Review asked serious questions about how construction operates. But if 2018 was a time for reflection, then 2019 will be a time for action.

Over Christmas 2018, the UK government published the Building a Safer Future implementation plan, explaining how Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations will be put into action. In essence, construction is being asked to move from ‘passive’ compliance with the rules to taking full responsibility for safety.

While the reforms may be daunting, they offer a brilliant opportunity for everyone in construction. Clients can take a more active, empowered role in buildings’ development, and businesses can improve quality, productivity and even employee satisfaction on-site.

But to get there, both clients and construction firms will have to make very practical changes to the way that buildings are constructed and managed. This blog will explore the two biggest shifts–and how UK construction companies can begin to prepare.

Reform #1 – Direct liability for clients, designers and contractors

The safety reforms aim to address a major issue in the old system: a lack of clarity over who is responsible for safety at each stage. Going forward, construction projects will require three named dutyholders–the client, the principal designer and the primary contractor–to hold personal responsibility for ensuring that the building is built safely.

This is a significant change for the industry, and one with several positive implications. Firstly, creating personal liability will more effectively drive change on the ground. Fear is a powerful motivating factor, especially when individuals could face the prospect of criminal prosecution.

Secondly, it’s important to note that clients and contractors will be accountable for what’s built on the ground. This will drive a move towards greater quality in the industry and away from the value engineering that Dame Hackitt heavily criticised. Critically, to fulfil their responsibilities the client will need a clear view of what’s happening on the job, which is where the second major reform comes in.

Reform #2 – The golden thread of information

A lack of complete, accurate and up to date information about buildings was identified as a second major issue in the construction industry. Critical information was being lost, or recorded inaccurately, between building phases–and specifically on handover, which has potentially dangerous implications even today.

To address this, dutyholders will become responsible for maintaining a ‘golden thread’ of information throughout all stages of the building lifecycle. This will ensure an accurate, as-built record of each site, to reassure residents of its safety, and enable improved, more informed responses to incidents in the future.

The planned reforms recommend that records should be digital, consistent and ‘kept in an accessible format for all key users.’ This is a significant practical shift, as historically records have been controlled by contractors, held in their proprietary format or even stored on paper. Too often this valuable knowledge gets lost on handover.

But while the client will gain much more control over the building records, the reforms state that ‘the information will be created and updated through a collaborative process’–meaning everyone on the project will contribute.

Putting the reforms into practice

This change in safety regulation will have significant impacts for not only for clients and contractors but every construction firm further down the line, particularly when it comes to how they use technology.

Construction businesses will benefit from adopting digital tools to capture and share information during the building process. For many, this may be a big change, as nearly a quarter of all businesses still rely entirely on paper for all projects. But these outdated processes can cause delays, mistakes and lead to costly rework on projects. Adopting digital technology helps to not only meet regulatory requirements but will also improve the performance and productivity of firms on-site.

Collaboration between firms will become even more important. Every business involved in a project will need to regularly share accurate data, as well as records of any changes. Digital tools can help by clearly assigning responsibility for completing tasks and enabling the attachment of images and notes directly onto digital drawings.

It will also be important to ensure that firms can share information across different platforms, and selecting tools with APIs, like PlanGrid Connect, will be hugely beneficial. Across the board, these changes can help to create a more open and cooperative culture across project teams.

In the long term, greater use of technology will help to improve digital skills across the industry as a whole. This will help employees of every age to be future-ready, while also attracting new, younger recruits into the industry. Digital tools can make work life easier, alleviate conflict and ultimately improve satisfaction–a move for the better.

Embracing change in the UK construction industry

The Building a Safer Future implementation plan will go into consultation throughout spring 2019. The UK government has indicated that many elements will be tested in the field, so it may take some months for the new regulations to come into force.

But clients, contractors and all construction firms can take this opportunity to get ready for change–and realise benefits as a result. For clients, there’s the chance to get greater control of the records created on-site. Meanwhile, contractors and firms of every size can enjoy greater productivity thanks to technology.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy will be recognised as marking a turning point in UK construction. The government has committed to ‘radically improve culture and capability’ in the industry. Rather than a regulatory burden, these reforms are a chance for every construction business to change how it works, for the better, for us all.

Amanda Fennell

Amanda Fennell joined PlanGrid in October 2017. As Head of Marketing in EMEA, based in the UK. She has 20 year's marketing experience in IT, including working with some leading cloud organizations. She was the first marketing recruit in EMEA and supported the launch of the company in the region. Amanda holds an MA in Communications and Cultural Studies from DCU, Ireland.

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