In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the conclusion that safety failures had enabled the fire to spread rapidly, there has been a focus on implementing regulation that will prevent such an incident from ever happening again.
The Building Safety Act is considered to be the largest advancement to building safety law in a generation. One of the measures that the Act will facilitate is the creation of a new and stronger regulatory system for testing and enforcing construction product safety. This will replace the current EU regulatory framework with the new regulations intended to come into effect from 1 January 2023.
The current regulatory framework, which is based on the EU Construction Products Regulation 2011, is perceived to have a number of weaknesses which the new system will seek to address. For example, the EU regulations only apply to construction products that are either subject to a designated standard or which conform to a technical assessment. However, it is clear that following the Grenfell Tower fire some highly unsafe products were outside of these criteria. The existing regulations also place no obligation on economic operators (such as suppliers) to ensure a product is safe.
The new framework will introduce a ‘general safety requirement’ which will mean that manufacturers and suppliers cannot put a product on the market unless it is a ‘safe product’.
A product is deemed to be a ‘safe product’ if:
“Under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use, the product does not present any risk to the health or safety of persons, or, if it does, the risk is as low as it can be compatibly with using the product at all.”
The new regulations will also introduce the category of ‘safety critical’ construction products, which “could cause death or serious injury if they were to fail.” The UK standards body BSI is due to draw up specific standards for these products, which will include a system for assessment and verification of the constancy of performance which safety critical products must pass before being placed on the market.
The new rules will be enforced both by local Trading Standards and a new National Regulator for Construction Products and these bodies will put the emphasis on safety.
These bodies will have recourse to range a of measures to sanction non-compliance, including both civil and criminal penalties. This means that suppliers and employers must now ensure they are prepared for the introduction of the new framework. Whilst this National Regulator will have its own testing capability in order to facilitate better market surveillance and enforcement, construction companies will also be expected to step up their product testing and certification processes, which may require the involvement of third-party specialists.