Does the Golden Thread of Information replace the clerk of works?

If you are new to construction like me, you will probably be wondering what exactly a clerk of works is.

Apart from a difficult mouthful that demonstrates the peculiarities of the English language that is.


A clerk of works inspects the workmanship, quality and safety of work on construction sites and reports back to senior managers and clients. As a clerk of work, you’d be conducting regular site inspections and checking that building plans are being followed correctly. You’d check that work is being carried out to the correct specifications and legal, safety and environmental standards.[1]

In short, a clerk of works ensures that appropriate standards are met while a building is in the construction stages. This, in turn, has demonstrated an improved standard of safety during the buildings inhabited phase, as, to put it bluntly, they ensured the building was constructed properly in the first place, by keeping a watchful eye over ‘five quality monitoring areas: “compliance, workmanship, materials, defects and recommendations.”’[2]


However, this was not always the case. Forty years ago, the clerk of works was considered essential to construction sites, on both private and public developments, but it fell out of favour. Ever since the Grenfell disaster, the Institute of Clerk of Works and Construction Inspectorate (ICWCI) has reported an upsurge of interest in the role and other large private sector construction companies have started to include them[3] once again.


But why did the disaster create an increase in clerks of work and how is it beneficial for construction sites?[4]


A city skyline with cranes on a foggy morning at sunrise.


Why did the Grenfell disaster cause an increase in clerks of work?

As identified by Dame Judith Hackitt in her interim report, the construction industry has become plagued by a ‘race to the bottom’ culture ‘caused either through ignorance, indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice.’[5]


We have since learned[6] that during the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, the project did not have a true clerk of works, and instead employed ‘clerks of works to act as site inspectors, rather than procuring a “traditional” end-to-end clerk of works service for the entire duration of the project.’[7]


This, and the general lassez faire attitude found throughout the industry, meant that corners were cut. Had the clerk of works position been properly maintained across the industry, we could argue that this likely would not have been the case.


This is reinforced if we look at the key duties associated with the clerk of works.

  • Inspecting construction work and comparing it with drawings and specifications

  • Measuring and quality checking building materials

  • Identifying defects and suggesting ways to correct them

  • Monitoring progress and reporting to construction managers, architects and clients

  • Keeping detailed records of work

  • Referring to plans and taking photographs of work, along with measurements and samples

  • Liaising with contractors, engineers and surveyors

  • Checking that building regulations, health and safety, legal and ecological requirements are met

  • Working between an office and construction sites.[8]


Described as the "principal reason"[9] for the spread of the flames during the first phase of the Grenfell Enquiry, the use of ACM rainproof cladding and Celotex's RS5000 PIR insulation boards, "actively promoted"[10] the spread of fire, causing it to become uncontrollable.


If construction companies had a “traditional” clerk of works on site, it would be their responsibility to check building materials and the relevant safety certificates to ensure they had passed building requirements and met safety standards, as we can see in the highlighted key duties above.


This means that the inclusion of a clerk of works would ensure dangerous building materials would be banned from every construction project, both public and private.[11]


A spool of shining golden thread


The Golden Thread of Information

A potential way around a human clerk of works is to utilise the Golden Thread of Information, as suggested by Dame Judith Hackitt. This digital storage facility is expected to be outlined in further detail in the upcoming Building Safety Bill, which is anticipated to receive royal assent later this year.


Just as the clerk of works supervises construction, a digitised Golden Thread aims to provide support for necessary parties, such as tier-1 contractors or architects, allowing them to ensure the building is safe before it is signed off at each of the three gateways. It is then handed over to the next set of key people.


This is particularly relevant to the idea of a clerk of works for Gateways 1 & 2.


  1. Gateway one – Planning Permission Application

  2. Gateway two – Commencement of Construction

  3. Gateway three – Completion or Final Certificate Phase [12]


Under the new Building Safety Bill, in order to pass from the planning to the construction phase, full building plans will need to be signed off. This will include the Fire Statement, which will be examined by a chartered fire engineer with HRRB experience.


This hard stop between the design and construction phase will allow for all designs to be checked for safety and compliance.


In this way, if a site does not employ a clerk of works, once the Building Safety Bill goes into the transitionary stage, expected 2023/24 by early estimates, the Golden Thread and the Building Safety Regulator will take over roles very similar to this, which should ensure the same stringent safety standards are met.


This will lead to a general increase in safety and competency and should go some way to address the ignorance and indifference of the construction industry and bring back good practice across the board, without the necessity of a clerk of works. [13]


A white and red crane lifts equipment into a construction site on a sunny day. The building resembles an unfinished block of flats and has concrete walls.

However, as the Building Safety Bill only applies to HRRBs, residential buildings of other varieties may want to employ a clerk of works to ensure that they maintain the same universal high standard hoped for from the Building Safety Bill.


What do you think?


Do we need to see a return of the clerk of works on all sites, or are there other ways to ensure building safety standards are met, particularly if they are not HRRBs?


Let us know in the comments!


____________________________________________________________________________ [1] Goconstruct.org, ‘Clerk of Works,’ <https://www.goconstruct.org/construction-careers/what-jobs-are-right-for-me/clerk-of-works/#:~:text=A%20clerk%20of%20works%20inspects,plans%20are%20being%20followed%20correctly.> 22/04/2022 [2] ICWCI chief executive Rachel Morris, quoted in Building.co.uk, ‘The return of the clerk of works,’ published by Ike Ijeh, 29.11.2017, <https://www.building.co.uk/focus/the-return-of-the-clerk-of-works/5090855.article> [3] Building.co.uk, ‘The return of the clerk of works,’ published by Ike Ijeh, 29.11.2017, <https://www.building.co.uk/focus/the-return-of-the-clerk-of-works/5090855.article> [4] Image from Pexels.com, courtesy of Stefan Grage. [5] Gov.uk, ‘Foreword,’ Building a Safer Future Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Final Report, published May 2018, page 5. [6] At the Grenfell Enquiry. [7] https://www.housingtoday.co.uk/news/consultant-tells-grenfell-inquiry-it-was-clearly-not-providing-full-clerk-of-works-role/5108179.article [8] Duties list taken from Goconstruct.org, ‘Clerk of Works,’ <https://www.goconstruct.org/construction-careers/what-jobs-are-right-for-me/clerk-of-works/#:~:text=A%20clerk%20of%20works%20inspects,plans%20are%20being%20followed%20correctly.> 22/04/2022 [9] Grenfell Tower Inquiry, phase 1 report overview, page 4 [10] Grenfell Tower Inquiry, phase 1 report overview, page 5. [11] Golden Thread image taken from IFSECGlobal.com, ‘Hackitt’s ‘golden thread’: Steps to true transparency and accountability,’ published by Chelsey Lang on 04.08.2019, <https://www.ifsecglobal.com/fire-news/hackitts-golden-thread-steps-to-true-transparency-and-accountability/ > [12] Gov.uk, ‘Building control regime for higher-risk buildings (Gateways 2 and 3): factsheet,’ published 05.04.2022 [13] Image from Pexels.com, courtesy of Mathias P.R. Reding

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