Does this signal an end to breaking specifications?

There are still many questions to be answered about what and why Grenfell happened. The inquiry is expected to take around 18 months, with the outcome being a detailed account of the lead up to the disaster.

One of the recommendations may be that it signals an end to the age old practice of breaking specifications, putting control of what happens on site firmly back with architects. That has to be a good because architects are best placed to make decision about what building product should be specified.

All too often, an architect works with a reputable building product manufacturer in the correct specification of a product for it to be subsequently broken by the contractor or installer on site. There are many reasons for this, including that an alternative product delivers costs savings, a familiar yet worrying statement, or there are availability issues with the supplier. These changes to the products used may result in an equal and equivalent specification, although the point is that no single person has control over this. In such as safety critical area such as buildings that, surely, can’t be an acceptable method of working.

That’s why, it is our prediction that widespread breaking of specifications will become a thing of the past.  Contractors, clerk of works and building control officers will all have to ensure that what was specified on the architect’s plan is what is been used on site. This will require a seismic change across the industry, a more formal approach, with greater responsibility being assigned to architects.

The details of Grenfell are yet to be published, yet already there is talk about an alternative cladding system being used. In all likelihood, the façade system specified by the architects, was not that which ended up on the refurbished building.

Cost cutting, contractors changing it to their preferred system (without the specialist knowledge that the architect has), or the multitude of other reasons why specifications are broken everyday on sites around the UK, changes are afoot. For example, currently, with common breaking of specifications, there is much confusion about liability for defects in construction - who pays and how much? Unsurprisingly, defects are one of the major causes of dispute in a construction project and many of these all go back to a change in specification and who authorised it. Avoiding this issue could deliver nearly as much efficiency as other initiatives introduced by the government such as BIM (Building Information Modelling).

We all hope that good will come out of the inquiry and putting control back with architects may be a step in the right direction.

Dragonfly PR is a construction sector PR company, with over 15 years’ experience of working with building product manufacturers, architects and contractors.  For help and advice on a PR or social media campaign for the construction sector, contact our team on 01709 300130 or email: hello@dragonflypr.co.uk.

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