Fire-safety chief: Whistle-blowers should be able to report potential building flaws

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Whistle-blowers should be able to report potential building flaws to the government’s new building-safety regulator, the head of a leading fire-safety body has said.

Fire Sector Federation executive officer Dennis Davis told Construction News that workers should be able to report concerns to the new regulator without fear of retribution. The new watchdog, which was partially detailed by housing secretary Robert Jenrick last month, will enforce more stringent regulations for higher-risk buildings. Dame Judith Hackitt will oversee the creation of the organisation, which will sit within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Davis said: “If you see something or believe something hasn’t been done properly, you need to be able to tell the responsible person, and you hope they will then take the necessary steps to rectify or check on the weakness. The dilemma might arise when someone tells someone and they’re obviously ignored, or deliberately told to go away. We would hope that in the process that’s being constructed through the regulator, there is a mechanism where someone can actually go and say, ‘look, I believe this was done wrong or incorrectly’, and that person will not then necessarily be punished or blacklisted.”

Davis added that the new regulator should impose fines on companies that fail to adhere to its standards. “There should clearly be a penalty system for those who corporately don’t do it properly,” he said. “There should also be proper registers of competent people and ideally a third-party insurance process so that we start to eradicate the worst of what people generally call ‘cowboys’.”

The plan to create a new regulator was originally announced in October 2019 prior to the publication of the Grenfell Inquiry phase one report. The news came alongside the launch of a consultation on whether the height threshold over which buildings combustible cladding cannot have, should be lowered from 18 metres to 11 metres.

Jonathan O’Neill, managing director of the Fire Protection Association (FPA), the safety body whose role includes encouraging insurers to work with the government on fire protection, said he was disappointed with the decision to place the new regulator within the HSE: “I do think we need to see the details,” he told CN. “I’m disappointed that it’s gone to the HSE, to be perfectly honest, because to me, I think it would be better staying within the building-regulations department.”

Speaking at an FPA conference in January, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government building-safety reform director Chandru Dissanayeke said the HSE would be recruiting “quite a lot of staff” to work for the new regulator. He added that the regulator would be able to draw on the existing expertise of HSE and that the aim of the new organisation was “not a reprioritisation of existing staff”.

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References: Constructions News