In April 2023, "Testing for a Safer Future", a government commissioned review by Paul Morrell and Anneliese Day was published (the "Review") as part of the Government's on-going fire safety programme. The Review highlights that there are still many gaps and weaknesses in the current construction regulatory landscape and that further action is required to ensure safety. Some of the issues and recommendations are discussed below, and we will discuss other topics in two further posts:

The Role of the UKAS

The UK Accreditation Body ("UKAS") is responsible for "assessing the competence of organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services". According to the Review, there are two main issues affecting UKAS. Firstly, (1) this body is short staffed. This problem is likely to be aggravated with the Building Safety Act in force, given that this Act recommends an increase in accreditation services Secondly, (2) UKAS reviews the testing systems of accredited bodies by verifying their compliance using a "single test report" provided by these bodies to which no independent verification is conducted.

The authors suggest: (1) UKAS must be realistic about their capacity to expand, recruit and train new staff to ensure an effective service (2) that the Government should strengthen the role of UKAS in accreditation by providing annual spot checks and 4-yearly assessments to the accredited bodies as well as conducting random inspections.

Standardisation

The authors, reiterating the findings of the Hackitt Review, highlighted the main challenges relating to standardisation. The first issue relates to outdated standards, highlighting that out of the "277 standards referenced in the Approved Documents, only 163 are classed as current". Secondly the fact that the standards are developed in collaboration with manufacturers and their trade associations undermines the perception of the standards. Thirdly, (3) there is a lack of systems testing specifically focusing on high-risk issues regarding fire or structural safety.

The address these issues in a broader way suggesting a commission with suitable qualified experts is set up to review and establish the new standards. It should be made clear what the new tests are "designed to demonstrate, (…) the science behind them (…) and their limitations" with the risk of setting an unsafe standard can be further reduced by building in a margin of safety to reflect actual site conditions. The Review also recommends that the Government sets up the Construction Products Standards Committee to provide a continuous review the effectiveness of the product standards and update them as necessary.

Systems Testing of the Modern Methods of Construction

Systems testing, as opposed to product testing, is the evaluation of products, as part of systems, and how they interact.

It is a general criticism of the Review that there are few standards for systems testing and that the tests which do exist do not take a "fitness for purpose" approach. The recommendation of the Review is for further analysis to be done into whether a "practical regulatory requirement for additional system testing" is necessary, especially in relation to the behaviour of products in external cladding systems in fire and to make these findings public.

In addition, the authors focus specifically on the systems testing of Modern Method of Construction ("MMC"). The Review advises the Government and the industry to address the requirements of MMCs by setting new standards, conformity assessments, regulation, and regulatory oversight to ensure that this method of construction does not "fall into the gap between product and building regulations" and responds to the same safety regulations as others.

Further information in the other topics covered by the review will follow in later blog posts.

For further information on matters relating to the Building Safety Act please see our Building & Fire Safety Hub.

Contributors

Eric Johnstone

Legal Director

Marina Borges Mollo

Trainee Solicitor