Dame Judith Hackitt’s review into fire safety and building regulations is driving fundamental change across the whole construction sector. Here, we explain the impact of the review and why knowledge sharing has never been so important.

‘Building a Safer Future’ is the name of Dame Judith Hackitt’s final report following her independent review of building regulations and fire safety. It sets out systemic failings in the construction industry as a whole, which have led to what she describes as a ‘race to the bottom’ culture.

One justification that construction professionals often make for their decisions is, ‘we’ve always done it this way’. In light of Building a Safer Future’s recommendations, that argument is no longer appropriate. It should never have been an acceptable argument in the first place, but a lack of accountability and proper enforcement, and a willingness by less scrupulous contractors to undercut those who seek to do a job properly, allowed it to flourish.

Changing Our Thinking

As part of her conclusions, Dame Judith Hackitt advocates taking a ‘system approach’ to buildings, thinking about how parts work as a whole to achieve complete performance.

A system can be an individual construction element – a roof, wall or floor – or the complete building. The key is to think about how the components of the system interact with one another, rather than assessing them in isolation.

When it comes to building elements, the flat roofing industry has arguably led the way in promoting a ‘systems’ way of thinking. The pitched roofing industry for example is increasingly taking a similar route, while timber frame kits represent a system approach when it comes to external wall construction.

As an insulation manufacturer, however, we don’t see evidence of that same approach in flooring. Thermal insulation has a critical role to play in the safety, performance and sustainability of floor constructions, but we don’t always encounter the level of familiarity we would expect with insulation types and how they interact with concrete screeds and slabs.

Taking Responsibility

The construction industry needs to change for the better, building safer, better-performing buildings that do not let down the end user.

Part of making that happen – including in the flooring sector – is to foster a working environment that encourages site operatives to be curious and learn, and allows them to question and challenge the work of colleagues and previous trades if there are any concerns.

The culture of transferring liability to other parties where possible means professionals in all areas of the industry are inclined to focus only on their area of expertise. That ‘silo’ mentality results in a failure to transfer knowledge through the construction team.

If quality issues are only flagged up at a late stage, it can result in the wasteful taking-up of work that need never have been continued in the first place. All of which means there is still a role for product manufacturers to make sure that useful, accurate information is available to all who want it.

With that in mind, we have recently developed our first seminar for CPD, designed to introduce extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation to the flooring industry. But we don’t want to restrict it to just architects and specifiers.

As an insulation manufacturer, we believe Continuing Professional Development – CPDs – can be hugely beneficial for contractors too.

Supporting a Culture of Learning

Traditionally, CPDs have often been something of a cliché in the construction industry – product manufacturers going into the offices of architects and specifiers, which usually involves somebody delivering a Powerpoint presentation while the audience enjoys a lunch, paid for by the manufacturer.

‘Doing a CPD’ has always been a valid awareness-raising tactic, but while some manufacturers do it well, others fall well short of providing memorable and useful information.

However, we believe that creating an inclusive and supportive working environment, where shared responsibility takes precedence over blame, involves promoting learning and development, and sharing knowledge.

This traditional view of CPD being something designed only for architects and specifiers is reinforced because as they are registered with relevant professional bodies, they have to undertake a certain amount of learning each year.

Let’s remember what CPD stands for though – Continuous Professional Development. It’s a concept and culture, not just an event that you attend while eating a sandwich.

Continuous learning and development – the act of identifying personal areas of knowledge and skill that need researching and updating, is CPD in its truest form, and something that anybody in any part of the construction industry can, and should, do.

Change for the Better

The construction industry needs to change, building better performing buildings that meet the needs and expectations of the end user.

The flooring sector has an important role to play in any future improvements as do product manufacturers. By working together, sharing knowledge and best practice, we can ensure a systems approach to flooring, greater awareness of thermal insulation and more sustainable and safer buildings.

Whether you are a contractor, manufacturer, distributer or other member of the Contract Flooring Association (CFA), Polyfoam XPS is reaching out to contractors to improve awareness of thermal insulation and help build a high performance, sustainable future – as well as a safer one.

This article appeared in the Contract Flooring Journal June edition on page 103