A Burning Platform of Reactive Compliance

Updated: Feb 14, 2019


Do we now have a burning platform with respect to reactive compliance?


On May 16 2018, a report was published following a review led by Dame Judith Hackitt focused on issues related to high-rise residential building in response to the Grenfell Tower (UK) fire in 2017.


From the report:


The key issues underpinning the system failure include:

  • Ignorance – regulations and guidance are not always read by those who need to, and when they do the guidance is misunderstood and misinterpreted.

  • Indifference – the primary motivation is to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible rather than to deliver quality homes which are safe for people to live in. When concerns are raised, by others involved in building work or by residents, they are often ignored. Some of those undertaking building work fail to prioritise safety, using the ambiguity of regulations and guidance to game the system.

  • Lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities – there is ambiguity over where responsibility lies, exacerbated by a level of fragmentation within the industry, and precluding robust ownership of accountability.

  • Inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools – the size or complexity of a project does not seem to inform the way in which it is overseen by the regulator. Where enforcement is necessary, it is often not pursued. Where it is pursued, the penalties are so small as to be an ineffective deterrent.

The above issues have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ caused either through ignorance, indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice. There is insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe


Hackitt's report calls for an overall shift towards outcome-based compliance and that the development of this guidance be moved to the industry. This aligns with the principle that:


risk should be owned by those who create it

which was introduced into UK health and safety law in the 1990s.


This is also why the first step towards proactive compliance is to take ownership of your obligations. If you don't own your obligations you will not own the risks and treat them with the attention they deserve.


Hackitt's report raises several issues and the following is very telling and along with the others is common in other countries and sectors:


We must also begin thinking about buildings as a system so that we can consider the different layers of protection that may be required to make that building safe on a case-by-case basis. Some of the social media chatter and correspondence I have read whilst I have been engaged in this review shows how far we need to move in this respect. The debate continues to run about whether or not aluminium cladding is used for thermal insulation, weather proofing, or as an integral part of the fabric, fire safety and integrity of the building.


This illustrates the siloed thinking that is part of the problem we must address. It is clear that in this type of debate the basic intent of fire safety has been lost.


Hackitt's report contains additional insights and recommendations and can be found here.


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