A defining element of the Building Safety Act is the requirement it places on all those in the construction industry to be competent to ensure compliance with the Building Regulations.
The requirements of The Building Safety Act (BSA) are coming into force in stages, with the latest being implemented from 1 October 2023. Some in the construction industry in England had assumed that it would not impact them or the way they work because they are not involved with 'higher-risk buildings'.
Unfortunately for them, this is not the case. The Building Safety Act 2022 applies to any work on any building coming within the scope of Building Regulations, and not just high-rise residential ones.
To ensure buildings are safe, a defining element of the Act is the requirement it places on all those in the construction industry to be competent to do their job properly. That includes designers, contractors and anyone carrying out any design or building work including product distributors and manufacturers.
A competent person must have the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviour necessary to design or build a scheme in accordance with "all relevant requirements". What's more, those carrying out the works are required to notify the relevant people when work arises which they are not competent to undertake, or is beyond the limits of their competence.
Where an organisation is appointed, it must have appropriate management systems, processes, policies and resources to carry out its functions and it must ensure that individuals who carry out the work for them have the appropriate skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours for their roles.
People who are training or are in the process of gaining experience are exempt from the competence requirement, provided they are supervised by a competent individual. However, this exemption does not apply to the Principal Contractor or Principal Designer, where individuals need to be fully competent to take on these roles.
The regulations also place a duty on those who appoint anyone to carry out building work, including main contractors, sub-contractors and clients, to take reasonable steps to ensure that those they appoint meet this requirement. For higher-risk buildings, the Client must provide a signed declaration at the Gateway Two stage, that they have assessed and are content with the competence of the Principal Designer and Principal Contractor. To help in this task, the British Standards Institution has created for higher-risk buildings.
The competence requirements apply to anyone carrying out design work or building work. “Design work” includes design details, specification and calculations prepared for a design. “Building work” covers all activity on a construction site. That means where technical advice is sought, distributors and merchants need to be confident that the person giving that advice is competent to do so.
So, how do law-abiding clients, designers and contractors show that they are appointing competent people and prove to the new regulator that they have taken ‘all reasonable steps’?
They will need to seek evidence that those people know what they are doing and have suitable experience, including qualifications and appropriate professional registrations.
At Knauf we have a track record of continuous professional development for our staff. The transition to a competency model that looks to fulfil the objectives of the Building Safety Act and the associated Code for Construction Product Information has been relatively smooth, if challenging. We had processes and systems in place but we have now evolved and developed these to make sure they support the objectives of the new regulations.
In the past, there have been times when the construction industry would take people at their word if someone says they are competent. This is no longer acceptable; it is incumbent on designers, contractors and developers to take reasonable steps to ensure that the right product suppliers with the right people are employed to undertake specific roles and to manage the associated risks. This is for everyone’s benefit, not least the building's occupants.