Written evidence submitted by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) [BSB 267]
- The United Kingdom Accreditation Service is the sole National Accreditation Body recognised by government to assess, against internationally agreed standards, organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services. Accreditation by UKAS demonstrates the competence, impartiality and performance capability of these evaluators. UKAS operates under an MoU held with BEIS on behalf of the UK government as a whole and its role is enshrined in The Accreditation Regulations 2009 (SI 2009/3155).
- In relation to this draft Bill, UKAS has been extensively involved in the work being done in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety for the last 2½ years and is also in dialogue with HSE regarding how it can support the Building Safety Regulator role. UKAS has also provided written submissions to the Grenfell enquiry to explain how accreditation and certification operates in the UK.
- UKAS works with regulators in areas where accreditation and accredited certification can support regulation, competence and assurance. Examples are with HSE (e.g. GasSafe scheme, asbestos testing), the Environment Agency (e.g. MCERTS stack emissions trading, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme) and the Food Standards Agency (various food testing and certification schemes). The majority of construction products testing and construction-related testing in the UK is performed in UKAS-accredited laboratories.
- Having been very close to the work that has stemmed from the Grenfell tragedy, UKAS welcomes and fully supports the aims of this Bill. In particular we would highlight the following points:
- There is a clear need for building safety to be treated in a holistic and ‘joined-up’ way. The construction industry is very fragmented and it is unrealistic to expect this to change significantly in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to have comprehensive regulations and robust assurance mechanisms to ensure that what is specified is specified correctly, and that what is constructed is in accordance with that specification.
- Accountability, traceability and competence lie at the heart of this.
- UKAS therefore welcomes the provision of powers, in Clause 39 of the Bill, for the introduction of competence requirements for individuals and organisations and, in Clause 110, for the regulation of construction materials and products.
- However, much will depend on how these powers are implemented. UKAS believes there is a clear need for independent oversight of those involved with higher risk buildings and the suitability of the construction products used in them to give confidence that buildings will be fit for purpose and will perform as intended.
- This oversight should be underpinned by credible mechanisms that ensure the competence of individuals and/or organisations and the reliability of products. A qualification gained at the start of a career is no guarantee of competence 30 years later. There is a significant difference between accredited certification and simple registration schemes, where claims are not independently and thoroughly verified.
- There are obvious benefits in utilising existing frameworks to provide this oversight – for instance, the use of accreditation and accredited certification to agreed international registration (as provided by UKAS) and the meaningful use of licenced professional qualifications (as provided by the Engineering Council). In other words: the mechanisms to deliver this oversight already exist and there is no need to ‘reinvent the wheel’. What has been missing is a sufficiently robust regulatory regime, which ensures that these mechanisms are deployed correctly, consistently and comprehensively.
- Experience teaches us that the construction industry is a very competitive marketplace and there is always the temptation to cut corners or find loopholes. We strongly recommend that the regulation, the assurance mechanisms and the enforcement are devised with this in mind. If there are loopholes, the industry will find them and exploit them. Grenfell Tower is a stark illustration of this.
- UKAS accepts that it would not be appropriate to mandate the level of oversight described above in the Bill itself but we believe that clear requirements to this effect should be included in the supporting secondary legislation or, failing that, in the promised statutory guidance.
- UKAS is already playing a major part in this important work but stands ready to provide whatever support it can in support of the government and this draft Bill.