Dave Robinson, Head of Technical Support at British Gypsum, discusses how the company’s new website leads the way in greater data integrity, and why there is an urgent need for a change in culture around safety and testing in the construction industry.

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Since the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017 and the inquiry into what went wrong, the way the construction industry manages competency and provides complete transparency is crucial to ensuring that we build better and safer. In Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, it was highlighted that there is a need for significant cultural and regulatory change throughout the entire industry. The main finding from the report is that ‘the current system of building regulations and fire safety is not fit for purpose and that a culture change is required to support the delivery of buildings that are safe, both now and in the future.’

In response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations, and the subsequent reports and legislation that came in its wake, it is clear that trust, safety and transparency are the only ways forward. British Gypsum has been at the forefront of manufacturing high-performance drylining solutions for more than 100 years. While that’s something we’re incredibly proud of, it’s also a position that comes with great responsibility. As the construction sector continues to come under scrutiny, it’s never been more vital for us to play our part in raising standards across the industry and facilitate better building outcomes.

Whilst already confident of our approach, last year we undertook an in-depth review of how we approach marketing and data integrity when it comes to product and specification performance data. We have made a far-reaching commitment to provide complete transparency to all partner construction customers and the launch of our new website not only demonstrates this commitment in action but effectively marked the ‘step change’ in our offering.

Along with several other measures, our new website now automatically serves EN standards, through the new White Book Specification Selector tool, as priority over BS standards, meaning that all product performance data has been tested to rigorous EN standards. Although it is still possible to access BS standards data, prioritising EN demonstrates our commitment to the highest standards possible and highlights that safety of life must take priority over anything else.

We have been moving towards EN standards since 1999 when the Construction Product Regulatory Review decided that standards across Europe should be harmonised for export and import. However, BS standards remained acceptable under Building Regulations to allow manufacturers time to make the switch to EN standards.

Two decades have passed but the situation remains the same. Working to BS standards is still an accepted alternative route to comply with the Building Regulations. This is despite the fact that BS standards have not been maintained or updated since the move to EN in 1999.

The testing system, as highlighted in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report, is too complicated and allows for conflicts in standards to be overlooked. Hackitt describes how the industry has developed a ‘race to the bottom’ culture caused by ignorance, indifference and a system that does not encourage best practice. The industry needs to come together and focus on delivering the best quality buildings possible so that those living and working in them are, and feel, safe.

Testing to EN leaves no room for items specified to be interpreted in any other way than how they will be used in practice. They are strict standards, sometimes even incurring extra cost since there is no way around substituting one component for another. Designing to EN standards puts real lives and people at the heart of modern construction. While we acknowledge that working to EN standards may pose new challenges for some, is there really any alternative? Our integrity and conscience say not.

For the time being, we will continue to offer support for specifications to BS standards, but we’re determined that safety must come first. There is a huge shift to be made in our industry and that will take legislation and time. But even without a change in the law it is already clear what needs to be done and that the time to lead the way is now. From architects to subcontractors to clients and everyone in between, British Gypsum is dedicated to leaving the most positive legacy it can and convinced that EN standards are the key to building better.

Contact Details
To find out more about the new website, visit british-gypsum.com/certainty.