Worldwide practices in building and construction must change to ensure that people can enjoy homes and buildings which are safe and meet high quality standards, the head of an inquiry into the UK building regulatory system following the Grenfell Tower collapse said.

Speaking at the inaugural forum of the International Building Quality Centre (IBAC) held online on October 9, Dame Judith Hackitt DBE FREng said her investigation following Grenfell uncovered many problems with building practices and regulation.

According to Hackitt, who chaired the Independent Review Commission of Building Regulations and Fire Safety after Grenfell, many of these issues apply not only in the UK but across multiple jurisdictions worldwide.

“I came to building regulation in the event of a catastrophe – the fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017 and the subsequent discovery that there were many other high-rise buildings that we needed to be concerned about,” Hackitt said.

“I was not asked to look at what had happened at Grenfell specifically but to examine what had happened and gone wrong with the regulatory system that should not have allowed many of the practices which were uncovered.

“My report was published less than a year later and revealed a broken system which allowed shortcuts, cost-cutting, cheap material substitutions and a range of other poor practices to go on with very little chance of enforcement and ridiculously low penalties even where enforcement did take place.”

“Of course, my review focused on high-rise residential buildings. But much of what I found is much more broadly applicable.”

Speaking of UK construction, Hackitt said her investigation uncovered surprises across two areas.

Whilst there had been effort over several decades to improve safety for workers, little if any of this had translated into determination to deliver buildings and homes which are safe over decades of occupation.

This is true not just of issues involving small domestic incidents but also avoiding catastrophic events such as Grenfell.

Further, whilst problems had been well-known, there had been little accountability for improving practices and a mentality that addressing issues was someone else’s job.

This is common not only in the UK but worldwide, Hackett said.

Going forward, she said all industry participants need to be held accountable for the delivery of buildings which are safe and of good quality.

Meanwhile, safety and quality must be considered together rather than separately.

Poor quality buildings where cost cutting, uncontrolled substitution and poor workmanship are evident will never be safe, she said.

For buildings to be safe, meanwhile, the entire building system must be quality assured – not just individual parts.

In the UK, progress is being made.

In conjunction with other regulatory changes, the draft Building Safety Bill 2019-2021 will implement all recommendations in her report. This includes establishing a new independent regulator, applying a tougher regime to both new and existing high-rise residential and requiring buildings to be considered as systems rather than a series of unconnected parts. The bill is currently being considered.

Hackitt’s comments come as the IBCQ formally launched its Principles for Good Practice Building Design Regulation document, which outlines ten universal principles which will define best practice building regulation in any jurisdiction around the world.

Prior to the Grenfell review, Hackett had not been involved with the building industry (her background is in chemical engineering) and was able to review the system from a fresh perspective.

Whilst she had not anticipated remaining involved in building regulation after the review, she says driving change has now become her ‘personal mission’.

Toward this end, she works as an advisor to government in the UK and also sits on the government’s Building Reform Panel in the Australian state of Victoria

She says the importance of safe and comfortable homes should not be underestimated.

“Everyone deserves to be safe and to feel safe in their homes,” Hackitt said.

“Those who design, build, manage, modify or in other ways have an influence on the integrity of buildings – especially those who are in multiple occupancy  – all need to feel responsibility for delivering quality and safety and they need to be held accountable.

“That is what a good regulatory system needs to deliver.”