Taking control

By Richard Bate, Build Check.

Now that the dust has begun to settle on Brexit, and the implications are becoming clearer, industries are starting to reflect on the requirements it will place on businesses in the longer term.

In the area of testing and certification for construction products we already know that we will all need to have our UKCA marking in place for January 1, 2022 (subject to parliament passing the bill so not yet actually set in stone) if we are to continue to place products into the UK market.

Our housing secretary Robert Jenrick recently appointed two experts in Paul Morrell OBE and Anneliese Day QC to lead an independent review of the system for testing construction products. This is to examine how the current system could be strengthened to help ensure, or at least provide confidence, that construction products are safe and will perform as they are sold and marketed. The review follows some of the alarming Grenfell Tower Inquiry testimony and is part of the government’s plans for Building Regulation reform. The review is intended to seek the views of stakeholders as to how construction product testing could be improved, and its recommendations are expected later in 2021.

We already know, as we mentioned in our March column, that some sweeping changes to some of the Approved Documents to the Building Regulations are on the way. Things never stand still in the world of statutory requirements and regulations, but we are entering into a busy period and for some of the forthcoming requirements, the clock is well and truly ticking.

One way in which you can minimise the impact of regulatory change to your business is to maintain your documentation and ensure that you have adequate product testing and certification in place, as we have covered in previous months. This way, you will only be dealing with changes as they happen and not trying to re-invent the wheel ahead of a looming deadline.

Your Factory Production Control (FPC) system is elemental in UKCA/CE Marking, ISO9000 and BFRC window and doorset energy ratings, and yet many businesses seem to regard it as just a document; a box to be ticked to ‘get the certificate’, and then tend to disregard it thereafter.

FPC covers the procedures that are put in place to allow a manufacturer to maintain consistency in quality and to keep records of non-conforming products, processes or materials, in order to make improvements. It therefore needs to cover manufacturing/ fabrication, storage and delivery, but should also incorporate the systems and processes required for enquiry handling, quotations, orders and contracts, procurement and purchasing, sales and marketing and complaints.

This much maligned aspect of accreditation and conformity, if correctly and fully utilised, can also function as the Operations Manual for your business and, as such, a valuable reference for your employees at all levels. It can also drive and be the basis of your training programmes in all aspects of your business, which could prove invaluable in these times of skills shortages and the uncertain return of the furloughed workforce.

In the case of the hospitality sector, we have seen the disrupting effects the loss of foreign labour, and the reluctance of furloughed workers to return, have had as the sector attempts to ‘return to normal’.

While the fenestration sector has been pleasantly surprised by unexpectedly high levels of business since we began to emerge from Covid restrictions, the sector has seen less desirable issues around materials shortages across almost all sectors, problems with transport, almost continual price increases, and shortages of skilled labour.

Of course, while your FPC system, however brilliant, cannot actually prevent any of these issues from happening, it can assist your management and workforce in navigating their way through them and set out the processes for dealing with the issues as they arise. Comprehensive and current works orders and documentation will be invaluable in bringing new employees up to speed and maintaining the integrity of your products and your operations. It can also play an effective role in helping everyone know where they stand, which is generally good for morale and your employees’ mental health.

All these benefits from something that we should be doing anyway; and the box still gets ticked.