The BBA’s Product Excellence Programme (PEP)

Assurance of quality and safety are key to building product specifiers, installers and end-users. But how do you know the product being considered matches its published specification? It’s an issue that has become more critical post-Grenfell and one that the British Board of Agrément – the UK-leading building products certification body – had been considering for some time. Its answer, launched last year, was the ground-breaking Product Excellence Programme (PEP). Here Head of the BBA Testing Unit, Alvaro Enguita-Gonzalez, explores the objective of the programme.

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Chartered Engineer Alvaro Enguita-Gonzalez is Head of the BBA Testing Unit in Watford. He has more than 20 years’ experience in the construction industry, covering testing and certification, building design, product manufacturing, surveying and management.

PEP has one simple aim – to provide additional assurance that products certified by the British Board of Agrément (BBA) continue to match up to their published specification.

PEP is an important initiative for the BBA and an equally important development for the market, given the concerns about construction products matching their specifications and formulations. Post-Grenfell, it quickly became obvious that consumers wanted more assurance about the quality of building solutions and the need for consistent testing was noted in the Hackitt Report. This shift in mindset chimed with BBA internal discussions about enhancing our proven audit and inspection service and resonated with responsible manufacturers wanting to reassure clients.

The end result is the construction industry’s most rigorous and technically excellent product certification protocol ensuring that, over time, construction products do not undergo any change that affects their performance. Manufacturers have welcomed PEP, not only for setting them apart from competitors but also for providing users with market-leading, independent verification that their products match their production and performance specifications.

So what does PEP mean in practice?

As part of BBA certification, it is mandatory that our management systems auditors visit client manufacturing facilities every six months to ensure that certified products continue to be manufactured in line with the agreed quality plan. To this, PEP introduces additional – and mandatory – annual testing for products which possess fire or structural type characteristics (complexity 1) and three yearly testing for all others (complexity 2). As part of this new process, BBA audit experts randomly select products for testing while on-site and send these to the BBA Product Excellence Test Centre in Watford. Analysis of these randomly selected samples is independent of factory inspections, ensuring complete rigour and impartiality throughout the process. If a product tested does not meet the agreed specifications, it will be subject to immediate further investigation. Companies unable to address the source of failure will have their BBA certificate suspended and/or withdrawn.

As mentioned earlier, the sole aim of this initiative is to assure specifiers, designers, architects and contractors that products certified by the BBA continue to match their published specification now and in the future. It does not apply to building solutions certificated by other organisations.

Here, it is worth noting what role certification organisations such as the BBA play in the construction industry. The certification process entails examination of all relevant technical, regulatory, manufacturing and approval data to ensure complete compliance with national regulations. Manufacturing plants are also inspected by the BBA every six months and now, under PEP, annual or three yearly random product testing is carried out. It is a highly skilled and technical process. It is also important to note that building solutions can be sold in the UK without product certification, which is discretionary, but for manufacturers of high-performance, well-designed, technically outstanding and safe products, certification gives them invaluable third-party, independent verification. The BBA is UKAS-accredited, ensuring its technical competency and impartiality.

Another important consideration is that building products cannot be certificated by association. Only the product named on the certificate has passed the assessment. This is important when, for example, specifiers are considering similar products from the same manufacturer. It may be that a product range is produced in five different colours, but it cannot be assumed that all colours are certificated simply because one is; it has to be checked and confirmed.

Conclusion

The Grenfell tragedy is shaping the future of the construction industry and, in many quarters and without regulatory pressure, changes are being made to address issues it has highlighted. At a Westminster Sustainable Building Forum for the launch of PEP, LABC Commercial Director, Martin Taylor, said “significant” changes in Building Regulations often followed disasters, but the industry should be more proactive in looking to solve problems. PEP is the BBA’s proactive response, helping to deliver further reassurance by consistent product safety testing. Clients’ inclusion in PEP demonstrates their commitment to this ideal and provides a rolling assurance of certified product performance to specifiers, Government, insurers, lenders and customers, demonstrating product integrity on an ongoing basis. It also underlines the BBA’s dedication to raising standards and delivering greater assurance throughout the supply chain through a continuous drive for excellence.

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