It’s exactly one year since the Grenfell Tower disaster that claimed 71 lives and impacted hundreds more. Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Building a Safer Future’ report, also known as the Hackitt Review, argues that there has been a systemic failure to adequately incorporate safety and integrity into design, procurement, building and maintenance processes.
ECA and FSA made submissions to the Hackitt Review in 2017, and recently welcomed many of the recommendations included within the final report. We are committed to working closely with Government and industry to achieve the broad aims of the Review, and to deliver a holistic approach to electrical and fire safety training and regulation.
One topic of core importance to many engineers and contractors, notably electricians and fire systems installers, is individual competence.
We take the view that a competent individual must either: a) hold a relevant apprenticeship, b) hold an industry-recognised vocational qualification (NVQ or SVQ), or c) be part of a structured training and assessment programme leading to an industry-approved vocational qualification or apprenticeship. This in turn should result in the individual receiving an appropriate ECS card, which will allow them onto site.
It’s important to note this view is shared by the PAS 2030 Steering Group, which approved a key objective to this effect which had been proposed by the Each Home Counts board. The Steering Group also took the view that there should be a single industry register highlighting those individuals qualified to an appropriate standard, an endeavour which ECA supports.
As the Hackitt Review notes, invariably electricians and fire systems installers will need to make decisions in their day-to-day work to ensure that high safety standards – and not simply compliance – are achieved. This is a big reason why holding a relevant apprenticeship is so fundamental, as this enables operatives to develop a breadth and depth of technical knowledge and skill, as well as broader capabilities, such as engineering judgement, a solutions-based approach and an ethical perspective.
The Hackitt Review specifically references the use of ECS cards for recognising individual competence within the electrotechnical sector as being an exemplar for the broader industry. ECS recently launched the ‘Registered Electrician’ card, which is set to become compulsory from 2019 for new applications, and includes ongoing CPD and a code of professional practice. ECS is recognised by the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), which is the industry’s umbrella scheme.
This fundamental issue of skills and competence is also inherently linked to the Government’s ambitions for more highly skilled apprenticeships, the Construction Leadership Council’s objective for a fully qualified workforce, HSE’s desire for a safer construction industry, the general need to avoid unnecessary burdens on highly capable businesses, and our sector’s interaction with international standards and best practice. It is therefore crucial that the Government adopts a consistent and comprehensive package in this area, utilising a cross-departmental approach.
One significant action the Government could undertake as a client would be to mandate the use of ECS and similar cards on all public sector work. This would be a significant step towards recognising that higher standards and qualifications are necessary within construction, and would show that the Government was leading on this issue – a key point given the gravity of Grenfell and the failings highlighted in Dame Judith’s report.