Shortage of building inspectors creates 'crisis point' for building control

Industry fears a rise in dangerous defects in buildings and delays in project sign-offs as the shortage of building inspectors worsens post-Grenfell.

Industry trade body, the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors (ACAI), has said building control is at a 'crisis point', with building inspectors forced to stop work due to a lack of insurance cover.

A spokesperson for ACAI, which represents private building control bodies, said: "Statutory regulations on professional indemnity and public liability insurance are currently excessively stringent, meaning many insurers are unwilling to provide cover for inspectors. This is creating a crisis point within the building control industry.

Urgent consideration is needed from the government to attempt to resolve the situation before large numbers of firms of all sizes are forced to cease trading. Failure to act will severely curtail the industry's capability to sign off safe buildings."

Any new buildings must be approved by an inspector to certify they meet building regulations. However, inspectors can only operate and grant approval if they have professional indemnity (PI) and public liability (PL) insurance.

Many private building inspectors have stopped taking work and are referring customers to rival companies or local authorities instead.

Aedis, a Darlington-based building inspector which checks buildings for regulatory compliance such as fire safety, has halted operations because of a lack of insurance. The firm explained that there was only one insurance broker still willing to provide cover but that several firms, including Aedis, had failed to secure cover themselves.

Some designers say the shortage of building inspectors could have a huge impact on project timelines and on the quality of schemes. Alastair Ferguson, associate director at Assael Architecture, said: "Other than the confusion, delay and uncertainty this will cause, there is a real risk that a forced change of approved inspector will lead to more buildings with potentially dangerous defects. Transferring responsibility for half-completed work to a second inspector, local authority, or combination of the two will require very detailed and precise communication."

He also said that at a time when the industry is trying to raise construction standards by increasing stage inspections and defining clear roles and responsibilities, this will have the opposite effect.

Andrew Harrison-Sleap, head of the construction professional indemnity insurance business Marsh said that it was an 'extremely challenging time' for the construction sector.

He traced the issue with insurance claims back to the recession in 2010 but that insurers were even more cautious in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people two years ago this month.

With the legal decision on Grenfell cladding still unresolved, brokers are now restricting or excluding coverage for cladding and fire safety issues, according to Harrison-Sleap.

"In the meantime, there are numerous examples where claims payments and reserves have been made in respect to cladding and fire safety," he added. He pointed to the the ruling over the Lacross housing block fire in Australia, which found the builder liable, but made the architect fire engineer and building surveyor responsible for the vast majority of thr $5.7 million payout.

"[The ruling] clearly points to all stakeholders involved in the delivery of construction, with the least amount of responsibility being put upon the party starting the fire," he said.

A version of this article first appeared on Architects' Journal.

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