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Overhauling construction product regulation: a step towards rebuilding trust post-Grenfell

Overhauling construction product regulation: a step towards rebuilding trust post-Grenfell


The UK government's initiative to establish a new construction product regulator aims to address industry challenges

In the wake of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, which claimed 72 lives, the inadequacies in the regulation of construction products came under intense scrutiny. In response, the government announced in January 2021 that the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) would undertake the responsibility of national regulation of construction products. This decision was in accordance with a recommendation from the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt.

The journey towards establishing the new UK regulator for construction products, referred to as the Regulator, began in April 2021. OPSS has since been leading and coordinating efforts to set a new regulatory approach for construction products. The ultimate goal is for the Regulator to become fully operational once the secondary legislation under the Building Safety Act 2022 receives approval from Parliament. This legislation will grant OPSS the necessary legal powers to fulfill its duties as the Regulator comprehensively.

The challenges ahead are substantial. Evidence presented during the Grenfell Tower Inquiry exposed systemic issues within the construction products industry, highlighting the urgent need to address poor practices and establish new norms to restore public confidence. While the Regulator will play a crucial role in encouraging good practice, enforcing laws, and educating the industry, it is acknowledged that regulatory intervention alone cannot fix the system. All stakeholders in the industry, including manufacturers, distributors, installers, warranty providers, standards makers, and test houses, must actively participate in changing the operational culture and accept their responsibility in this regard.

As OPSS works towards establishing the Regulator, several initial steps are being undertaken. These include asserting leadership within the sector, building an evidence base, recruiting staff with the necessary skills and knowledge, engaging with stakeholders to enhance capacity and understanding, reviewing the regulatory system for any gaps, and setting expectations through collaboration with the sector. Additionally, OPSS is supporting local authorities in enforcing current construction products regulations, leveraging existing legal powers and expertise in areas such as intelligence gathering, risk assessment, and investigation.

Operationally, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) is designated as the lead department responsible for construction products, with OPSS acting as the Regulator on its behalf and funded by DLUHC. Notably, OPSS will continue its role as the national regulator for consumer products within the Department for Business and Trade (DBT). Interim operational arrangements are outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding agreed upon by DLUHC, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and OPSS.

Looking ahead, the Regulator will collaborate closely with other regulators, particularly the new Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive, which will oversee the safe design, construction, and occupation of high-rise residential buildings. This collaborative approach underscores the commitment to ensuring robust regulation and enhancing safety standards across the construction industry, ultimately aiming to prevent tragedies like Grenfell Tower from occurring again.