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New RIBA Health and Safety Guide explains key competencies for architects

Dieter Bentley-Gockmann, author of the RIBA’s new handbook for embedding health and safety in design, explains how it provides essential information to support members in the future competency test.

26 November 2020

The new RIBA Health and Safety Guide, published in October, is a companion guide that has been prepared to support members in maintaining their professional competency in health and safety.

This is one of the mandatory competencies set out in The Way Ahead, the RIBA’s introduction to a new education and professional development framework.

The guide has been written by Dieter Bentley-Gockmann, Chair of the RIBA Regulation and Standards Group, and Director of EPR Architects. He explains that it is a useful study resource for architectural students and a good reference manual for ‘best practice’ among professionals. But it has also been developed in tandem with the RIBA’s forthcoming health and safety competency test.

“We have worked hard with both industry and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to pitch this guide at the right level,” he states. “It sets out what an architect’s professional competence should be. We have also consulted at length with members to get their feedback.”

The health and safety competency test will go live online in early 2021, on a voluntary basis initially. Details of how to take the test will be made public when this happens. Although at this point the test will be voluntary, any successful passes by RIBA Members who take it will be recorded and will count.

The test becomes compulsory for members from the end of 2021 and it will be a pre-condition of the 2023 membership subscription year renewal.

Bentley-Gockmann appreciates that many RIBA Members will have queries over the content of the competency test, and is keen to reassure them that it relates to standard practice professional procedures and knowledge.

“We know some people have had concerns that the tests might involve material not relevant to them. This guide should show that this is not the case.”

“For competent, practising architects, this guide will be a reminder of what you already know. It is a re-affirmation that safe practice and design should be at the heart of what we do.”

The HSE emphasises that professional bodies should demonstrate that their members are competent to undertake the duties imposed on them, particularly with regard to the Principal Designer role within the construction industry.

There are commercial implications to this: procurement schemes have generally looked for additional health and safety qualifications, rather than accepting that architects are best placed to carry out this key role. The RIBA test will help members prove they are competent and able to fulfil these duties.

The early chapters of the Health and Safety Guide deal with site visits, covering topics such as: being adequately prepared to undertake a visit safely (both before and during construction); guidance on significant or typical hazards you might face; and how these hazards might be managed. Newly qualified and junior architects are the professionals who will benefit the most from the on-site guidance information.

“One of the biggest health and safety concerns with less-experienced architects is that they may not have the confidence to speak up when they see something unacceptable,” he worries.

“They may be unsure whether it is their position to be concerned about it. They need to have the confidence to insist the situation is not right.”

Other chapters cover topics such as:

  • Design risk management: the general principles of prevention and the role of effective communication and coordination
  • Statute, Guidance and Codes of Conduct: the regulations standards and non-statutory guidance with which architects need to be familiar
  • Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015: the legal duties imposed on designers and principal designers under the CDM Regulations
  • Principles of fire safety design: basic fire science and the fire performance of construction materials and key aspects of fire safety design

Bentley-Gockmann says it is important to understand that the RIBA guide is ultimately reminding architects of a bedrock standard of competency.

“In theory, it should not be telling a competent practising architect anything new,” he points out. “If it does, then that is useful in revealing an area of understanding worth improving.”

The RIBA Health and Safety Guide is now available.

Read more about the intentions and proposals of The Way Ahead document and the new RIBA Education and Professional Development Framework.

Thanks to Dieter Bentley-Gockmann, Director, EPR Architects.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum: Health, safety and wellbeing.

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

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