Don’t tie up UK building industry with too many rules - Lesley McLeod

I am a useless client. I am just at the end of a renovation project and, although all is well now, there has been a veritable tsunami of tears and tantrums on the way. So in case – in a moment of madness – I ever consider doing this again I’ve been thinking about what went wrong.

It all comes down to better communication.

It would be easy to blame my builder. Convenient – but unfair. Because, like most things in life, there were two ends to this knotty piece of string. And I was responsible for some of the tangles.

Richard Nixon – maybe not the best example in the current circumstances – once said: “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.” And that about sums it up. We all think we are good at communicating but it is a skill that needs to be cultivated if we are to get what we want or have others comply with the rules that bind us.

Lesley McLeod, CEO, Association for Project Safety

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And explaining rules is something I know a bit about. I’ve worked on public information campaigns for drink driving and the dangers of looking directly at an eclipse, from carbon monoxide awareness to switching banks. The Association for Project Safety [APS], where I work, is a membership body dedicated – ironically, considering my issues with my contractor – to improving health and safety in the built environment. And it is all about listening, explaining and checking that people understand.

Construction, like many other sectors, has legislation and language all of its own. And currently the industry in the UK is facing as onslaught of change, with new rules coming thicker than a Scottish summer of regulatory midges. It is a response to disasters like Grenfell, and aims to correct the rules that were broken and the grey areas that were not previously covered.

But it worries me because, for one thing, it’s going to be an awful lot to take in – and may not be drafted by people with sufficient practical experience on the ground. Ending up with rules for every jot and tittle may seem fine on paper but adding additional complexity always risks people simply ignoring the whole lot. Just think of all the Ts and Cs accompanying everything from mobile phone contracts to mortgages. Force people to read reams of small print – and follow awkward rules – and it just doesn’t happen. So, you’ll see why I’m concerned there is a chance we will increase risk by legislating to prevent it.

No rulebook covers every eventuality. So, it is important regulation becomes a building block for better understanding and not a brick to hit us on the head.

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Perhaps the solution is already in our hands. Laws are subject to consultation – a formal conversation between the governed and the governing. It’s time we took our end of the regulatory chatter seriously because we will not obey what we do not understand. And – without our input – our laws may lack the lived experience that will make then work.

Lesley McLeod, Chief Executive, Association for Project Safety

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