Compliance and why the industry must remember its values

Andy Williamson is commercial director at construction products firm SIG

There’s something about the term ‘compliance’ that seems to reek of another age: an age when expertise was respected, when integrity was seen as a positive attribute and skilled trades were valued.

The Building Safety Act, which has just become law, suggests that our industry, in losing sight of some of those values, lost something essential. It lost sight of the fact that buildings are complicated. That creating and operating complex structures safely requires great skill and that everyone involved in the entire supply chain has to be competent at what they do.

I think this act is one of the most important pieces of legislation to affect the building industry in my lifetime but, like many regulations, it will only succeed if the industry embraces the intention as well as the letter of the law.

Looking beyond the technicalities of regulation

Over recent decades the tenor of public opinion has suggested that regulation is negative and deregulation is always good. Look at the way “red tape” has been pilloried and satirised over the years, with regulating bureaucrats seen as the enemy of progress and enterprise.

While conscious of the need for standards, the building industry has not been immune from this thinking.

What we have discovered, however, is that under-regulation is not nirvana. Quite the reverse: we might resent clumsy centralised regulations but responsible organisations, wherever their position in the supply chain, must play a proactive role.

“Ultimately, this is about self-regulation and self-respect. Laws are good but aren’t enough in isolation”

And this is where compliance comes in. Dictionary definition: the action or fact of complying with a wish or a command. Compliance is not only about following rules and laws – it can also be contributing to a movement whose objective is improvement.

Changing laws is a slow process and one that often throws out unintended consequences. Faster and more flexible is a system that recognises good intentions and puts processes in place to help them.

A great example is the Code for Construction Product Information. It’s a very clear signal from the product manufacturing community that it is willing to embrace change, accepting a degree of standardisation in return for confidence in accuracy.

The code itself is highlighting the necessity for oversight, for independent verification of performance claims and for competence. It’s definitely a step forward into a world where knowledge and skills are again recognised and valued.

These principles should be embedded within any responsible industry. My own view is that we need to absolutely nail this process now, immediately ahead of a proliferation of information relating to environmental performance.

Influencing compliance along supply chains

If it is tricky to be accurate about test data determining the compressive strength of a product, imagine the complexities of expressing the calculations behind a set of embodied carbon figures in such a way that the performance of different solutions can be fairly compared.

Distributors and merchants cannot dictate to their product suppliers, and none have the resources to check every claim made by every manufacturer. But we do have influence, which it is our responsibility to use wisely. This is where compliance comes in.

An active compliance team will focus attention on the need for accurate, up-to-date and verified information, working with manufacturers to encourage, cajole and – where necessary – coerce the firm’s supply chain.

Like any organisation, we also have a stake in the concept of competence. As the eternal “middle man” it’s a difficult path to tread.

Product specialists need to be able to provide comprehensive information on solutions but also understand the limits of what they can contribute. Competence is about understanding where your expertise ends as much as where it lies.

Ultimately, this is about self-regulation and self-respect. Laws are good but aren’t enough in isolation. What we need to drive improvement is the buy-in from the whole supply chain, ready to accept that compliance is a positive force for improvement not an irritating additional chore.

Find a copy of the Building Safety Act 2022 here.

Further reading on the Building Safety Act: Navigating building liability orders and Time to check your new duties under the Building Safety Act.

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