CSG report urges industry to adopt new competence standards and frameworks

The cross-sector group responsible for raising standards for safety-critical roles
across the built environment and fire safety sector is calling on the industry to
adopt new competence standards and frameworks in a new report, published
last month.

The Competence Steering Group’s A Higher Bar – Achieving a Competence-led Built Environment outlines how skills, knowledge and behaviours are being improved among those who design, construct and manage buildings in an effort to advance building safety standards in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.

As its introduction notes, the report’s publication is timely because new measures contained in the Building Safety Act, including the start of the registration of residential buildings of 18m or more and the registration of building inspectors have already come into force.

Also, while the industry was still waiting for some secondary legislation to appear at the time of the report’s writing, it is clear that raising the competency levels of safety-critical occupations is critical.

In this respect, the Competence Steering Group’s (CSG) third report sets out the new frameworks and standards that its 12 constituent working groups (see box below) have developed, and which different occupations must attain and will be measured against. These, together with accreditation procedures and learning materials, have been taken forward by the British Standards Institution (BSI) and other bodies.

“Having drawn up for the most part competence frameworks, the focus on many of the working groups will move into delivery, helping to embed these new standards into industry practice in the design, construction and management of higher-risk buildings and beyond,” notes the report.

The CSG’s overarching system of competence is outlined in its previous report, Setting the Bar, published in September 2020, and comprises four main elements, all of which are now either in place or are under development, the latest report notes. These are:

  • A new competence committee sitting in the Building Safety Regulator (BSR).
  • A national suite of competence standards that comprise a British Standard for an overarching competence framework; PAS standards for regulated roles; and a series of specific competence standards.
  • Requirements for individual disciplines, roles or activities.
  • Arrangements for independent assessment and reassessment against the competence standards.
  • A mechanism to ensure that those assessing and certifying against the standards have appropriate levels of oversight.

As the report explains, the 12 working groups have reached different stages
with their own competence frameworks, which is a reflection of the scale of the
task and the different nature of each group.

For example, it says that the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply is co-
ordinating professional bodies to undertake work to raise the competence levels
in procurement (WG11). These bodies, the report says, have developed a
programme for CPD for their respective members that will extend their existing
qualifications so they can deal with procurement within higher-risk buildings.

In contrast, WG2, which covers installers, represents more than 100 different
trade bodies with associated training and qualifications. As the report explains,
this working group has concentrated its initial work on six safety-critical
occupations for fire safety. All six priority groups, it adds, have been
developing their occupation’s competence frameworks, including a skills,
knowledge, experience and behaviours (SKEB) statement, a route of
competence, and an implementation plan.

WG12, for construction products competence, has not designed a framework for
a specific occupation or profession, the report explains. Rather, it is designing
core criteria for any individuals that impact the decisions for selection, use or
maintenance of construction products. For this reason, WG12’s work has an
impact on all professions and occupations across the built environment and
therefore it will take time to integrate this core criteria across the board.

The report notes that further work is required to set up the means for testing
competence and for awarding qualifications. WG5, focusing on fire safety
regulations is one exception, it says, and new levels of competence are now
being implemented.

To find how each of the working groups is progressing, readers should look at part 2 of the report.

In terms of next steps, the report says there is a consensus that the CSG should
continue to play a pivotal role in advancing competence in the built
environment, in part because it uniquely brings so many different industries and
disciplines across the built environment together.

There is also an acknowledgement that although frameworks have been
developed, a huge amount of work is needed to implement them.

Set up in 2019 by the Industry Response Group, the CSG is chaired by
Construction Industry Council Chief Executive Graham Watts OBE, who said:
“We have laid the foundations for a new infrastructure for skills, knowledge,
experience and behaviours. Coupled with strong legislation and enforcement,
these standards, frameworks and assessments which have been developed by
industry for industry, should help move us to a higher level.”

Watts added: “There is still a long way to go. As we move into the implementation phase, it is incumbent on those working in all professions and trades in life-critical disciplines to attain these higher levels of competence. Only then can we rebuild the trust of those who occupy and live in the buildings we design, construct and manage.”

As the report notes, the CSG will become an independent sub-group of the
Industry Competence Committee (ICC), which was set up within the BSR, and
is to be renamed the Industry Competence Steering Committee (ICSG).

Hanna Clarke, Digital and Policy Manager at the Construction Products Association and chair of the CSG’s Working Group 12 will succeed Watts as the ICSG’s chair with Gill Hancock, Head of Qualifications and Standards at the Association for Project Management and chair of Working Group 10 acting as her deputy.

“The new relationship with the ICC and BSR will provide an excellent opportunity for the group to test its work against critical friends,” said Clarke.

“Ultimately, the aim is to establish a new culture so that every member of the supply chain – from designers to maintenance contractors – demonstrates competence in working safely.”

Welcoming the new report, Jon Vanstone, ICC’s chair, said: “[The report] is a pivotal step in advancing building standards. It sets out a new benchmark in competence for the construction industry, aligning with the critical directives of the Hackitt Review and the Building Safety Act.”

CSG’s 12 working groups

WG1 – Engineers
WG2 – Installers
WG3 – Fire Engineers
WG4 – Fire Risk Assessors
WG5 – Fire Safety Regulators (previously known as Fire & Rescue Services)
WG6 – Building Control (work subsumed into the Future of the Building Control Group set up by the DLUHC)
WG7 – Designers (including architects and those working for specialists)
WG8 – Building Safety Alliance (previously known as Building Safety Managers)
WG9 – Site Supervisors
WG10 – Project Managers
WG11 – Procurement Professionals
WG12 – Construction Products

The CSG also set up an additional working group known as WG0 to look at overarching competence standards. This work has been passed to the British Standards Institution to develop the suite of national standards.

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