Building Safety Act’s competency requirements will boost industry

Adam Nicholson is group pre-construction director at McLaren Construction

One area of the Building Safety Act with obvious potential to transform the character of the construction industry is the competency requirement placed on site operatives.

The Hackitt Review described a fragmented industry of competing competency frameworks, and installers failing to understand how to achieve good quality work, how their work related to other disciplines and how it contributed to the safety of the building as a whole.

Part of the cultural change required by the Hackitt Review is that individuals in technical and crafts groups are self-aware, honest about their own competencies and not ashamed or afraid to ask for training where they know they need it.

Who can do the job?

As the new regime takes shape over the next 18 months from the Building Safety Act becoming law, anyone involved in building work must now be competent to do their job properly. That means having the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviour necessary for the role.

The act’s requirements are arguably most challenging for craft groups linked to package management, supervision regimes and individual competency records.

“An updated set of regulations will provide detail requiring those carrying out building work to notify the relevant people when they are no longer competent for their roles”

A main contractor needs to be able to spot the inadequacies in a subcontractor’s people, not just their own. Does a bricklayer have the competency to install passive fire protection in a cavity, for example?

The cultural change, training, metrics, tools and resources applied to health and safety now need to be applied to technical competency. But the new regime goes much further in a belt-and-braces structure of pre-qualification, competency frameworks, guidance, accreditations and statutory oversight.

An updated set of regulations will provide detail requiring those carrying out building work to notify the relevant people when they are no longer competent for their roles or work arises for which they do not have the competence.

For higher-risk buildings, the government intends to provide guidance on the skills, knowledge, experience, and behaviour and organisational capability needed, and it is working with the British Standards Institution to create a suite of national competence standards.

Raising competence

A statutory Industry Competence Committee will be established within the Building Safety Regulator to support the industry’s own work to raise competence. It will monitor and help to improve industry competence, publishing guidance, and advising the industry and the Building Safety Regulator.

Professional and trade bodies have been challenged to develop ways for their members to demonstrate their competence, with robust assurance processes.

Organisations must have appropriate management systems, processes, policies and resources. A set of standards covering the competency requirements for the statutory Principal Contractor role should be available in mid-2022.

Competency tracking platforms linked with learning management systems and competency passporting are key tools in delivering the expectations of the act.

Upskilling everyone

Main contractors must recognise their role in supporting the upskilling of all groups, with particular support for craft groups. A toolbox talk is a good starting point, but far more thorough supervision and validation is going to be required.

Competency goes beyond the abilities of a skilled tradesperson. Individuals also need to understand key hold points for their trade package, and the digital inspection and verification process necessary to satisfy the requirements of the Golden Thread.

This isn’t a charter for excluding the inexperienced from site. Individuals being trained in building work are exempt, provided they are appropriately supervised by a competent individual.

Much can be achieved through buddying on site. Those with recent training and data-management skills can be buddied with those with experience. Learning should be a two-way process.

The new regime presents an even greater recruitment challenge for the industry at a time of labour shortages, but the potential to transform our industry must be obvious. An individual operative will not only be more comprehensively trained than they were before, but they will have the competency passport to prove their skills and knowledge. That should prove empowering. In raising the status of operative roles, it could even support recruitment in the medium term.

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