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Paul Groves looks at the ramifications of the new Building Safety Bill

One of the more memorable lines in the original set of recommendations on building safety set out by Dame Judith Hackitt was a call for urgent “culture change” across the industry.

The new Building Safety Bill and other changes introduced since that landmark initial report certainly link closely to that desire to create a new industry-wide outlook.

But has the collective attitude changed sufficiently yet?

Is culture change within the industry happening at a pace that is acceptable or can more be done to ensure more rapid progress?

There are calls for the sector to harmonise, rationalise and digitise

Paul Groves Paul Groves Editor of Specification magazine

Where there’s a will

Generally speaking, the will for culture change seems to be apparent.

The recognition of the importance of the specification process, the emergence of the concept of the Golden Threat in construction and the involvement of different bodies in shaping change is helping to facilitate a new approach.

For example, the LEXiCON project, developed by the Construction Innovation Hub (the Hub), in partnership with the Construction Products Association (CPA), is making strides in shifting the language of product information, marketing and promotion.

LEXiCON is seeking to standardise construction product information and support manufacturers in sharing product information freely across the industry.  

The first phase sets out a methodology for the creation and ongoing management of ‘Product Data Templates’.

By creating a consistent approach across the building industry, LEXiCON will make it easier for people to upload, categorise and compare data between products. 

The project is funded by the UK Research and Innovation’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and has strong support from the industry.

Improving safety and sustainability

The Hub’s programme director, Keith Waller commented: “The Government’s Construction Playbook has called for the sector to harmonise, rationalise and digitise to improve its safety, sustainability and productivity.

“Meanwhile, as the construction industry moves towards platform and digital design and planning solutions, there is a clear need for standardised approaches to ensure product information is accessible, auditable and traceable. LEXiCON can help achieve this.

“We need an industry founded upon clear, accurate data that is collected consistently by everyone. This will also make it easier for building owners and occupiers to trace back the products and materials used within the built environment.” 

LEXiCON’s next phase is to showcase a proof-of-concept demonstration of how software can support industry development and distribution of Product Data Templates. 

Quick and accurate selection

These proposed Product Data Templates will be designed so that they are machine-readable.

The long-term ambition is to utilise Machine Learning and AI to help specifiers and designers select products which meet their requirements quickly and accurately.

As well as reducing errors, software could highlight any potential cost and carbon savings that might otherwise have been missed.     

“The potential impact of LEXiCON cuts through a broad cross-section of the industry,” added Keith. “It will support environmental and cost-saving innovation at the design stage, improve traditional processes of product selection to reduce defects down the line and help to improve building safety and accountability throughout a building’s life cycle.

“We look forward to engaging with industry as we begin phase two to ensure the outputs of the project maximise benefits for the wider construction sector.” 

No easy feat

The project has some important endorsement. In the project’s latest update report, Dame Judith Hackitt urges the entire construction products industry and those others working in the built environment to “embrace and contribute to the consensus processes necessary to create trustworthy and reliable digital structured product information.”

LEXiCON complements the Code for Construction Product Information and BSI Identify. It shows exactly the type of joined-up approach that will be required to being about this wider culture change.

BSI Identify has released a White Paper – Building Confidence - ‘golden thread’ and the importance of clear, accurate, and easily accessed product information to ensure the right building product is used at the right time and in the right context.

The organisation charged with developing and maintaining standards acknowledges that creating a common approach across the construction industry is no easy feat.

Indeed, it highlights that the first challenge lies in the fact that each product is developed by a collection of designers, consultants, contractors, and whole tiers of other suppliers that may never have worked together before and may never work together in the same combination again.

Increased risk and complexity

In information management terms, complexity is exacerbated by the different procurement systems and standards deployed by all the parties involved.

All of these variables add up to increase risk and complexity. All are improved by more consistent, better information that can be accessed (and is universally used) at all points of the supply chain.

Also, in larger construction projects, some suppliers at the tail end of the chain may be completely unknown to organizations at the front end of the chain. This ‘disconnect’ poses challenges in terms of performance and responsibility throughout the supply chain.

In this context, it can be argued that although the apparent slow progress on culture change may be frustrating many, the fact that the likes of BSI Identify and LEXiCON are developing new methods and approaches is significant.

The language of product information is changing and so is the wider industry as it embraces a new way of working.

Paul Groves is editor of Specification magazine