Taking responsibility

By Build Check’s technical director Richard Bate.

Responsibility, noun: 1, the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone – “a true leader takes responsibility for their team and helps them to achieve goals”; 2, the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something – “the group has claimed responsibility for a string of murders” (Oxford Languages).

Not particularly complicated, yet the very idea of taking or accepting responsibility goes against the grain for some of us at times. Often in business the taking or accepting of responsibility at individual or corporate level is simply a question of doing the right things.

The subject of personal responsibility has been brought into sharper focus by coronavirus as we have been asked by our government to take personal responsibility for our own safety and the safety of others: “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”.

We were asked to wash hands frequently, wear masks or face coverings in shops and other interactions, and to stay 2m away from each other. Should have been so simple, shouldn’t it? And it probably would have been if more of us could accept the idea of taking responsibility for our own actions. Many of us will have seen or heard individuals sounding off about not being prepared to wear a mask on the grounds that “I don’t believe in all that”, but what do their actions really say about them? Are they not prepared to accept responsibility for themselves, nor care about anyone else?

There are numerous everyday decisions that people take. For example, dog owners/ walkers decide whether or not to clear up after their dog, moderate drinkers decide whether or not to get behind the wheel of their car, motorists decide whether or not to observe the speed limit, we all decide whether or not to discard litter. Some of these decisions are comparatively minor when taken at face value but all of them can have far reaching and sometimes even fatal consequences.

A good pointer toward making the right decision and taking and/or accepting responsibility, whether personally or in business, is to simply ask yourself: “Am I doing the right thing?”

The construction industry is in the dock over three years after 72 people died in the Grenfell Tower disaster. Nearly two million homeowners have flats that they are unable to sell. In the Sunday Times, Jeremy Clarkson advised his insurance is rising from £8,000 per annum to more than £60,000 “as a result of the Grenfell fire”. He also attacks “halfwits from some two-bit companies” who were “boasting about how they got around the fire regulations”.

Some of the testimony, internal emails and texts revealed to the Grenfell enquiry are truly shocking, with one of the witnesses stating in an email: “They are getting me confused with someone who gives a damn.”

Unfortunately, far too much of the testimony showed individuals and corporate bodies joking about lying, cheating or simply not caring. This is obviously a dreadful indictment on an industry and none of us would want our sector to be thought of in this way, surely?

Unfortunately, complacency had become almost endemic in construction and this culture works against us. Grenfell occurred due to inadequate and inappropriate specification but even if specifications start out all right, there is an army of contractors and suppliers who start chipping away.

This is sometimes inaccurately described as ‘value engineering’, but more often known as substitution.

While some products can be substituted correctly, the chances are that many won’t be, as a result of incomplete, exaggerated or incorrect product information. Third party or ‘cascaded’ test evidence may be inappropriately provided. Even if the specification is correct then it can be undermined by inconsistencies in the installation process.

Window and door fabricators can help to ensure the correct specifications are met by undertaking their own testing programmes and having their quality management systems audited by Ukas-accredited providers. Rather than relying on suppliers’ or other manufacturers’ third party or cascaded test evidence, sometimes even contrived on a Friday afternoon, going downhill with a following wind, have your own products tested to the appropriate required standards. You can then claim with absolute certainty that the test evidence and accreditation you claim and submit is based on your own products, manufactured in your own factory by your own staff to the required standards ensured by your own quality management.

You can then be in no doubt that you are doing the right thing, and taking full responsibility for the products, services, people and activities of your business and are therefore a worthy partner for any project or customer.

Accreditation and testing cannot be just box-ticking exercises in today’s market but are particularly important and necessary components toward ensuring that our sector does indeed do the right thing.