Morrell calls for pre-election action on product safety

Former government construction adviser Paul Morrell has urged ministers to introduce stopgap measures on product-safety testing after concluding no comprehensive action is likely before the general election.

Last year, Morrell produced a report for the government that recommended a raft of measures to improve failings in the current regime, which were highlighted by the Grenfell tragedy.

Speaking at the Futurebuild conference yesterday (5 March), Morrell said that “nothing has happened from government” on the review apart from his appearance at a select committee in November, and he has “no clue what changes are coming”.

He called on the government to adopt a general safety requirement, drawn up with industry, as a temporary way of improving the safety of building products.

He said: “I’ve written to [the government] to suggest that, recognising that nothing is going to happen this side of an election – and you can shout at the industry but that doesn’t help – you will just say ‘we are minded to introduce a general safety requirement. And we are minded to have a concept of safety-critical products, which need a higher level of care’.

“Subject to working that out of the industry, I would say we’re off and running.”

Morrell told delegates that while designers and construction firms will have to prove competence from October, no similar duties are in place for product manufacturers.

He said that drawing up a general safety requirement would involve construction firms and product manufacturers taking the lead on suggesting new checks.

He said: “The industry should sit down and ask, before we start marketing [a product], what should we do to carry out pre-market risk assessment for [it]?

“What sensible steps should we take by way of due diligence before we launch a product on the market? For safety-critical products? What are those things and what more should we do because this could be the root of proportionality, you have a much higher level of care for things that might kill you.”

A temporary general safety requirement would at least give a policy direction for product manufacturers, he added.

Morrell’s Testing for a Safer Future report, which he wrote alongside legal expert Anneliese Day, was published last April.

In it, they questioned whether regulators would be able to enforce higher standards, and said certification bodies had failed to overhaul their operations post-Grenfell.

Morrell also said the government must decide whether to stick or twist with current EU product-testing rules.

Last year, firms were warned that a government pledge to allow the indefinite use of the European CE mark regime did not apply to construction products.

Unlike products in many other sectors, construction products will be required to comply with a new standard, UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA), after 30 June 2025.

Morrell said “there are opportunities, and there are risks in both [policy options for product certification]”.

He pointed out that the advantage of the construction products diverging from the European CE mark is that the UK Government could set new product standards.

“So if, for example, the Grenfell inquiry says there is a huge problem with toxicity – bearing in mind that’s what killed almost everybody at Grenfell – we could not add a test for a standard for toxicity if we stay in line with the EU system.”

Construction News will be covering the Futurebuild conference until it finishes on 7 March.

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