Product manufacturers must regain confidence, but industry already has an appetite for change

Blog by CPA Deputy Chief Executive and Policy Director, Peter Caplehorn

 The publication of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety issued an important and resounding call for change across the entire construction industry. A number of challenges were identified about how we ensure our buildings keep people safe.

Construction products were not exempt from these challenges. One of the painful lessons we learnt as a sector from the Grenfell disaster was that construction product standards must be made more robust and product information standardised and presented in a less ambiguous format. Regulatory frameworks need to be in place with an accompanying feedback loop and necessary sanctions to make sure products perform in a building as they are supposed to.

In response to Hackitt’s review, government has committed to creating new governance arrangements for building regulations guidance and expressed a desire to work closely with the Construction Products Association (CPA) and our industry more widely to ‘improve transparency of the performance of products.’

It’s easy to frame the spirit of this review as government fixing failures within the construction products industry. To characterise it as such would be too simplistic, however. Industry has not only been reactive but both proactive and collaborative in addressing the issues highlighted in the report, particularly in relation to fire performance and the marketing of product information.

The construction products sector has already begun driving through change for higher ethical standards in product marketing information. This has been evident most recently with the setting up of the CPA’s Marketing Integrity Group (MIG), chaired by Adam Turk from Baxi, one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of water heating systems.

The MIG has been working on how to ensure the presentation of consistent and unambiguous product information to the entire construction supply chain. Achieving this level of clarity for product information is vital for safety, particularly when a product is used as part of a more complex system on a building or structure.

A key aspect of the MIG’s work is a recent ‘Call for Evidence’ survey which invites responses from anyone who makes use of construction product information – architects, contractors, merchants and maintainers alike. It’s designed to build an evidence base for changes to how product information is presented, in line with government objectives outlined in response to the Hackitt review.

The importance of this survey will be obvious to all those working in the built environment post-Grenfell, but I can’t stress enough how important it is for the survey to receive as many responses from as wide a variety of stakeholders across the entire construction supply chain as possible. This will ensure that our recommendations have the best possible impact and are in the spirit of non-siloed thinking that the entire construction industry must now start to adopt.

Of course there are many factors that will help us achieve safer buildings, including investment in technical training and digitalisation most notably.  With regards to clearer product information, though, I’m encouraged to see such momentum and enthusiasm growing from construction products manufacturers themselves. There’s a real ambition to meet the challenges set by Hackitt and to make sure there’s no room for misinterpretation of product information and, as such, less room for risk in our built environment.

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