Published: 8 Dec 2021

Clare Price, sector lead for built environment standards at BSI, assesses the BSI’s role in developing a built environment competency framework in the wake of the tragic fire at London’s Grenfell Tower.  

While built environment professionals in the UK have excelled in their fields for decades, leading the way in the delivery of forward-looking buildings, the processes in place to ensure safety have been flawed. 

Dame Judith Hackitt’s report on the 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower in London, Building a Safer Future, found a fragmented approach to competency.

It recommended a series of requirements for those responsible for the safety of higher risk buildings as vital to preventing such a tragedy happening again.  

The report proposed that the built environment industry should be consulted and, once a consensus on standards had been reached, they should be enforced in regulation. 

In response to this review, the UK national standards body, BSI, published the first standard – BSI Flex 8670:2021 – earlier this year, as part of a programme designed to raise professional safety competency across the built environment sector.  

Template for improvement 

Sponsored by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the standard sets out core competence principles for all those working in the sector, to improve building safety across the UK. It aims to protect those working in the construction of buildings, as well as those living in and visiting them.  

The standard sets out core competence principles for all those working in the sector, to improve building safety across the UK.

Areas covered include managing, communicating, and delivering safety. It also covers ethics, processes, building systems, regulations, risk management and fire and life safety. This provides the template for sector and sub-sector competences that may be developed across industry. 

Definitions of the competences for three new roles laid out in the regulations can be seen in three new PAS documents: PAS 8671 Principal DesignerPAS 8672 Principal Contractor; and PAS 8673 Building Safety Manager.  

These roles cover responsibility for a building’s safety at the major stages of its lifecycle: design, construction, and operation. This will satisfy the regulatory requirements set out in the government’s new Building Safety Bill and ensure safety is at the forefront of the building team’s mind, no matter how old the building. 

Achieving industry consensus 

Public consultation is an essential part of the standards development process and takes place after a draft standard has been approved at the committee stage. BSI circulates the Draft for Public Comment (DPC) to the BSI technical committees that have an interest in the work.  

BSI also makes the DPC freely available to the public via its online Standards Development Portal, with the goal of achieving consensus and ensuring that every voice in the sector is heard and reflected in the standards.  

With different challenges faced by different parties – from engineers and site supervisors to designers and project managers – building a common framework should make it easier for the whole sector to work better together. This common framework means those involved can refer to a set of shared principles, terminology and competence requirements. 

Beyond safety  

The aim is that these standards will reach well beyond the urgent issue of safety, and act as a bridge to the wider competence requirements that are being developed for other industry skills. Once the safety requirements have been embraced and embedded, the process can be applied more widely to significantly raise the quality of the work and overall culture of those working in the sector. 

The UK’s built environment industry has been placed under a microscope in recent years and, by the way it has engaged with the development of these standards, we have seen first-hand how it has risen to the challenge and embraced the changes that need to be made. 

These core principles of competence are relevant to all those working in the sector, no matter what their seniority or role. We would encourage all building professionals to familiarise themselves with the standards, as we collectively raise the bar for building safety in the UK.