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MARTIN HOPKINS KO541230 studying for BSc.(Hons)

KINGSTON UNIVERSITY (School of Surveying and architecture).


The Building Regulations Act 1984 is the principal piece of legislation that gives
Parliament the power to impose the Building Regulations and their subsequent
amendments of which the latest is 2008.

Part 2 of the Building Regulations 2000, Regulation 7 state that Building work shall be
carried out (a) using adequate and proper materials for the work in hand and (b) that the
work shall be carried out in a workmanlike manner.

Whilst the use of appropriate materials may be shown to comply with Regulation 7 in
many definite ways such as those that comply with the Construction Products Directive
(89/106/EEC), or a product that complies with a British Standard or a national
specification, the control of the use of an apparently qualified labour force for work on
buildings that come under Building control is an area that is so much more open to

The Building regulations concerning materials and workmanship are supported by a

specific Approved Document. As with all of the Approved Documents, they are only a
guidance. The Approved Document states that work should be carried out to a British
Standard Code of Practice, or any other suitably recognised national technical
specification. Management systems such as BSENISO 9000 exist and there are also a
number of schemes recognised by UKAS (The United Kingdom Accreditation Service).

There are also schemes that exist for the accreditation and registration of service
providers. In short the Approved Document makes no suggestion as to how the standard
of workmanship may be achieved on a building project other than to recommend the use
of an accredited contractor, There are numerous such schemes, for example, FENSA, a
self-certifying body which is regarded as the industry standard setter for the installation of
replacement windows and doors. FENSA is recognised by UKAS, who is an appointee of
the Government, for providing standard analysis for the benefit of local authorities and
industry alike. Again however the Approved Document N, which FENSA works to,
makes no suggestion for suitable workmanship standard other than suggesting to make
reference to the Approved Document to Building Regulation 7.

Another example is the Approved Document P which gives guidance on the design and
installation of electrical appliances which yet again suggests that the Building Act 1984
will be satisfied by the use of ‘suitably accredited contractors’. There are various self-
certifying bodies allowed to carry out such installations: NICEIC Group Limited, BRE
Certification Limited and Elecsa Limited being examples. Such competent persons are
required to give a completion certificate that is evidence of compliance with the Building
Regulations. This certificate fulfils the Regulations in that it meets the standards set by

Any contractor or person not registered to issue such a certificate may only carry out
work by notifying the local building control body which will then have to carry out
inspection and testing, usually be employing a specialist body and one that is NICEIC or
otherwise accredited. This in practice generally does not happen and in short any

unrecognised contractor or person is severely limited to the area of work that they can

It is also stated in Approved Document P (1.28), that any unregistered installer should not
arrange for a third party to inspect and test the system as this accredited third party will
not have not been present when the work was being carried out and cannot therefore
verify that the work has been carried out to a standard that complies with BS7671.

I will quote a Mr Michael Hadlum, telephone: 07930692043, who was overall foreman
electrician responsible for overseeing the installation of the electrical services during the
construction of Number 1, Canary Wharf in the 1980’s. He has informed me that he has
recently failed to pass his 17th Edition electrical competency test for the second time. He
is still a practising electrician and for the purposes of complying with the law resorts to
using qualified colleagues to issue a completion certificate. This is obviously against the
guidance of Approved Document P 1.28).

It is not intended to enter into the specifications of the 17th edition of the City and Guilds
exam for the requirements for electrical installations (BS:7671:2001), but quoting Mr
Hadlum, “Not enough emphasis is given to the practical nature of installations and the test
is computer touch screen based, over technical and complicated and at times confusing”.
He is obviously a very capable tradesman who legally is breaking the law by practising in
the manner in which he now operates. He is self-employed and finds it increasingly hard
to operate. Options are not open for site assessment to obtain the required 17 th edition . It
is also argued that the requirement to register with an organisation such as NICEIC, in
order to self-certify, is obstructive in as much as the cost entailed. An initial application
fee of £505.25 is payable and £434.75 (maximum) is the first years enrolment fee. Extra
fees such as an extension to enrolment for working in a hazardous area can cost £340.75.
All costs are inclusive of VAT.

Whilst being a member of NICEIC, or a similar body is not a legal requirement, it is in

practice becoming increasingly hard to operate without doing so. The alternative to being
a member of a self-certification body is the notification of the Local Authority Building
Control department of proposed works. Again in practice this is most impractical for
small building projects and generally a membership of a recognised self-certification
body is a necessary requirement in order to obtain employment. Not least, insurance
companies are highly unlikely to insure any person or contractor who is not a member of
such a body.

It is argued that section 7(b) of the Building Regulations should go further to highlight the
importance of experience. This assessment of experience obviously will have to be
analysed by a recognised examining body. It is felt, especially with the technical trades,
that the burden to prove competence is excessive, not least financially. Government
legislation could and should go further than Section 7(b) in its recommendations for the
use of workmanlike methods of building. By its reliance on using self-certification
schemes it has allowed and ever increasing amount of bodies to be formed to which many
very capable persons are now required to be members, at no small cost, in order to carry
out their work.

Another area of the building industry that is heavily influenced by the interpretation of
Section 7(b) of the Building Regulations is the plumbing industry or more specifically,
what has now become a semi-independent branch of it; namely the contractors or persons
that are guided by Approved Document J. The most recognised of the self-certification
authorising bodies is CORGI.

Whilst it is beyond doubt that the installation of such appliances should be thoroughly
monitored, the Building Regulations do not go far enough in the implementation of such
control. Section 7 goes no further than to suggest that any person responsible for
installation shall be suitably qualified (by implication) and shall have to either (1) be in a
position to pass a completion certificate, or (2) notify the relevant authority (usually the
Local Council Building Control Department). Again the latter of these two options is in
practice unworkable. It has become recently somewhat of a hindrance not to be a
member of such a recognised organisation as CORGI and work as a gas appliance
engineer. Work is practically impossible to obtain without membership of such a body as

Historically, the installation of such appliances was undertaken by plumbers who were
“time-served” trades-people. Such ‘time served’ plumbers are still working within their
field of employment, most having taken suitable assessment tests and paid the appropriate
fees, but some, albeit highly skilled trades-people, are finding it increasingly difficult to
practise. It is not suggested that an installer should not have to comply with the outlines
of the Approved Document J. But referral to the Building Regulation 7(b) is reverted to
because it is considered that not enough legislation is in place to allow suitably competent
contractors or persons to work, without having to prove, often only financially, to the
relevant authorities and by default, insurance companies, that they are eligible to work in
their particular field. The cost of joining such an organisation as CORGI is not
inconsiderable and with suitably accredited training programmes, the amount of £6,000
appears to be the norm for an experienced plumber to attain the position of a registered
installer and to become eligible to issue installation certificates. It is in furthermore, not
a pre-requisite to be a ‘time served’ plumber to become an approved gas appliance
installer and there are many examples of such people who operate, legally without any
‘time served’ experience. It is therefore suggested that yet again, section 7 has placed too
much reliance on UKAS to oversee the responsibility of the control of workmanship
within the areas covered by Building Control. Regulation 7(b) of the Building
Regulations with its Approved Document Guidance notes is weak and unfocused in its
responsibilities to control standards. It is continually repetitive within the guidance of all
of the Approved Documents.

The above examples, namely the works that Approved Documents J and P give guidance
on are obviously of a more technical nature. Whilst it is not being argued that standards
are not required, it is argued that there is much more room for guidance on the level of
workmanship and it is all too easy just to simply state, in law, that a certain level of
workmanship shall be proven to exist by being a member of a industry recognised self-
certifying body.

It is a fact that there are many practising persons working quite legally, with the required
certification to satisfy Regulation 7(b), but who however lack practical experience. All
too often, unskilled, cheap labour is employed to work under the direct control of a
suitably qualified supervisor. Whilst theoretically this should be possible, in practice,
mistakes occur and go unnoticed with serious repercussions for the future; this is an all
too common occurrence within the construction industry.

Obviously with the progression of modern building methods and materials, there is less
need for such a skilled labour force as was needed historically, but it should be essential
that even the “semi-skilled” labourer must be experienced, alert and of a certain standard
to satisfy Regulation 7(b).

Possibly, the least technical of the Approved Documents is Approved Document A,

regarding the structure of a building. Yet again, regarding standard of workmanship,
referral to the Approved Document supporting Regulation 7(b) is suggested.

Any material supplied to a particular project that does not comply with a current
European or national technical approval body will automatically be rejected for use. The
problem of defining the standard of workmanship however is not quite so clear cut and
with certain less technical, and possibly more manually skilled trades, to define the level
of standard of workmanship is indeed awkward. Regulation 7(b), it is felt is weak on this

Training schemes are abundant, many of them fast track, providing all necessary
accreditation to proceed to work. They however cannot provide skills that can only be
obtained by experience and Regulation 7(b) makes no intimation towards this definite
problem within the construction industry.

It is an all too commonly voiced issue, from Parliamentary debate, to the workshop floor
as how to resolve the problem of the lack of a skilled labour force. It is a problem that is
not going to disappear. It is impossible to fast track an operative through a training
scheme, without prior experience and expect the same performance as an experienced

Historically the construction industry relied upon an ongoing process of producing

tradespeople through the system of apprenticeships. In November 1945, the National
Apprenticeship Scheme was introduced, as put into operation by the National Joint
Council for the Building Industry and indentured apprentices were registered with the
Building Apprenticeship and Training Council.

In 1953 the National Joint Apprenticeship Board was put into operation and was a
government appointed body who funded in part the City and Guilds. Employers
effectively subsidised the training of their employees by allowing, usually, a day a week
off work for attendance to college tuition. It was a system that worked by the continual
process of the ongoing training of the apprentice, both by the company they were
apprenticed to and government subsidised training. A high level of specialised skill was
in continual supply.

There are of course still City and Guild courses, now known as NVQs and to a lesser
extent are still responsible for the training of tradespeople, but it is impossible for such an
organisation as the City and Guilds alone to supply the demand of the construction
industry with an adequate supply of skilled labour.

Increasingly, construction companies are acting in a management capacity only, allowing

labour to be supplied by suitably qualified sub-contractors. It is not enough, in practice,
to assume that the said sub-contractors, or indeed any contractor that uses a labour force,
actually has the required experience. What is needed is a more central approach to
examining ability, especially in the less technical of building crafts.

Quite how government can improve on this is a huge problem and one that it seems
incapable of addressing. Section 7(b) makes no suggestion at all as to the time that a
tradeperson or any other operative should have been working before they can work
unsupervised; i.e. it continually refers to a contractor meeting the required standard of an
accredited body. Assessment by such bodies is often not sufficient to truly analyse the
standard that is required on a day to day basis and in unusual conditions that are all too
common. It may be possible to demonstrate skills to an adequate standard at an
assessment centre, but fail constantly to work to the required standard in the demanding
environment of construction sites.

BS 8000 is a major standard for suggesting the level of workmanship required to meet the
minimum requirements of Section 7(b), however it is only a guideline to work methods
and especially in the less technical of trades cannot be any substitute for experience of
working practice. BS 8000 along with all other standards are not free of charge. They
are, effectively tools of the law and it seems unreasonable that such tools should not be
freely available for referencing.

What is suggested is that a more centralised approach to assessment is required. It is all

too easy to rely on expensive accreditation bodies or national standards to be able to
adequately govern the standards of workmanship. Approved building inspectors such as
local authority surveyors cannot be expected to spot every fault that may have occurred in
the course of building work, nor is it enough to rely upon a contractor being a member of
an insuring organisation such as The NHBC to be proof of standard of workmanship. It is
not beyond reason to suggest that Section 7(b) of the Building Regulations should call for
a continual demonstration of ability, coupled with proof of experience.

At present there appears to be no plans for making any alteration to Regulation 7(b) in
response to an increasingly common concern over standards of workmanship.

Any centralisation of assessment will also be in conflict with the requirement to erect
buildings quickly. Ideally, in the commercial world, market forces will eliminate the
contractor who produces sub-standard work and so Regulation 7(b) would be self-
enforcing. However, up until recently, the demand for cheap affordable housing was
high. The consumer had little control over the quality of workmanship used and so
shoddy building practice has become commonplace. It is here that the link between

consumer and the Government (through the Building Regulations) is most needed. More
Government influence is needed and a more direct approach to control of workmanship.
It is not enough to rely solely upon an ever increasing army of approved inspectors and
accreditation bodies to guarantee Regulation 7 is complied with.

It is certainly a major problem and not one that is unique to this country. It is
commonplace in America for example, at least while sub-prime mortgages were available,
to build properties, especially in the poorer regions, to a bare minimum standard or even

What is required is a more objectively based approach to demonstrating compliance with

Regulation 7(b) and this can possibly only be achieved by creating a system of centralised
centres for ability testing. In Germany for example, it is a requirement that a tradesperson
has to on a yearly basis attend a centre whereby their skills are analysed by suitably
experienced examiners. The apprenticeship system in Germany is still flourishing and
this is in part attributable to a more general awareness of building culture. The German
Federal Government takes a more objective and direct approach to influencing the
principle of competent workmanship. Rather than relying on items such as our own
Regulation 7 to be enough to ensure guidance for good practice, it has taken direct
measures such as acting as the contracting authority in its own building activities. It has
created various schemes such as the Federal Foundation for Building Culture project and
taken various direct measures to promote building culture at both a national and
international level.

“It embraces:

• Architecture
• Civil engineering
• Urban Development
• Landscape Planning
• Public spaces
• Protection of historic buildings and
• The art and architecture concept

The starting point is raising awareness and preserving assets; the will to achieve a
sustainable overall quality, the willingness to apply procedures that enhance quality, the
involvement of those concerned.” (Anon. The German Federal Ministry of Transport.

Rather than have a reliance on what are effectively, external, profit orientated bodies to
implement Regulation 7(b), a much more direct government involvement is required. The
German model is more forward thinking than our own as it is not content to rely on the
legal framework of building control alone to dictate standards. It is actively getting
involved in: example setting projects, the production of guidance systems aimed at
increasing awareness of standards needed and a policy of direct involvement in standard

It adopts this policy through ongoing development and major projects are being
commissioned throughout the federal states along with other grant-aided projects. For the
grant-aided buildings, the German Government also acts as the contracting authority.

What is required in this country is more involvement from central government. A more
open approach to the creation of a culture that does not rely upon a rigid interpretation of
Regulation 7(b), (such as is possible with its weak wording) is needed. Example setting is
required, experienced skilled craftspeople are to be encouraged to enter into the area of
training without hindrance. Regulation 7(b) must be changed to encourage the
examination in greater detail of a person’s actual rather than just certificated skills.


The German Federal Ministry of Transport. (2008) Building and Urban Affairs, Building
Culture, Berlin,,buildingculture.htm [date accessed