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Mandatory health and life safety test

Ben Derbyshire

We architects need to sharpen our tools; add your views to help hone the new test

As many of you will be aware, the RIBA Council has voted to require all UK-based chartered members to undertake a mandatory health and life safety test. Existing members will have at least 12 months to prepare and pass the test. Like a driving licence examination, it will be competence-based and you will be allowed to re-take it. Chartered membership will be suspended for any who fail to demonstrate competence. 

There is a lot of detail to think through before implementation and members’ reactions so far have been helpful and informative. The response falls into two camps; those who believe the move to be bureaucratic, burdensome and ineffective, and others who see benefits in terms of greater rigour and increased confidence in our professionalism among clients and society. After more than four decades in practice, I can understand the frustration some members feel about any additional burdens on practice when margins are so tight. But there are wider implications we should consider, and I would be interested to hear views on a longer-term perspective.

The RIBA has been working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) since the introduction of the CDM Regulations 2015 to see how best it can provide reassurance that RIBA members have the skills, knowledge and experience to undertake designer and principal designer duties. Health and life safety competence has come under even greater scrutiny since the Grenfell Tower fire and the subsequent recommendations of the Hackitt Review of the Building Regulations. Moreover, I believe that change is necessary to restore the influence of and respect for our profession and consequently the value we can expect for our advice and design expertise.


16 June 2018. Four years after the 2014 fire, the Glasgow School of Art construction site was devastated again. Credit: Jeff Mitchell / Getty Images
16 June 2018. Four years after the 2014 fire, the Glasgow School of Art construction site was devastated again. Credit: Jeff Mitchell / Getty Images

CPD requirements are not just a safety net for minimum competence, they are part of re-asserting ourselves as a distinct offering

Surely the essence of any professional relationship is the client’s trust in our ability to use knowledge and skill to manage their risk. This is certainly the case for clinicians, accountants, lawyers and engineers. Some of these professions demonstrate their side of the bargain with mandatory CPD. Are our own current CPD requirements adequately rigorous? The definitions of what constitutes CPD are very broad and compliance audits are infrequent. I have only ever been asked to satisfy the RIBA on this point twice in my career.

Meanwhile both the nature and tools of practice are undergoing rapid change. And so is the regulatory framework. Many of us have been arguing for years that the overlapping and sometimes conflicting bureaucracies of compliance are in need of radical review and the RIBA has been vocal since the Grenfell fire in proposing changes in the provisions for fire safety. Things are moving fast.

Competition for our services is fierce; from non-professionals and constructors, and from related professions, particularly architectural technicians and surveyors. It could be argued that the architecture profession has failed to position itself into a strong and identifiably unique selling proposition in our market. So CPD requirements are not just a safety net for minimum competence, they are part of re-asserting ourselves as a distinct offering.

Indeed, the introduction of this first ever requirement for mandatory testing on a specific element of the core CPD curriculum for architects could be seen as presaging a new, more flexible and effective regime for the education and training of architects based on the principle of life-long learning. There is much to be said for a shorter, more affordable education for architects in terms of the core competencies that set us apart from other professions, and then a series of formally certified modules of CPD that enhance our value, and earning power, in the market place.

It is all to play for, in my view. A much more rigorous approach to CPD might very well play a significant role in our future as a profession. Please tell me what you think. 


Conference season speakers

The RIBA has partnered with the CIOB, RICS and RTPI for events at this year’s Labour and Conservative Party Conferences focusing on diversity and skills in the built environment. Shadow housing minister Roberta Blackman-Woods MP and housing select committee member Helen Hayes MP spoke at the Labour Party event at RIBA North, and the Conservative Party event in Birmingham sees secretary of state for education Damian Hinds MP as guest speaker.


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