It has been a long journey for the Building Safety Bill that finally received Royal Assent in April, almost five years after the Grenfell fire tragedy in June 2017 that prompted the review of the industry and the legislation that governs it.
While the Act may not deliver everything people hoped for, it does bring a number of radical changes to how we design, build and manage properties and puts in place higher levels of accountability.
The current building safety reforms are being widely discussed by organisations with building safety management responsibilities and by consultancies alike. Many of the changes focus on how the industry needs to alter its mindset and reprioritise building safety and particularly fire safety. Others focus on the competence of those practicing within the built environment industry. This has spurred a review of competency from those providing services to the industry as well. As is usually the case with change, those who prepare most thoroughly for the upcoming reforms will be best placed to deal with them.
As Dame Judith Hackitt (who has been advising the government on the passage and implementation of the Building Safety Act) said, this act requires developers to hold and maintain a “golden thread” of information to ensure that the “right people have the right information at the right time” to ensure buildings are safe.
What pre-emptive action should organisations be looking to take?
As building, health, safety, and fire professionals, we know too well there is a lack of items such as fire safety information available for much of the UK’s building stock. This is even the case for some modern buildings where the CDM regulations and Building Regulation 38 are expected to guarantee this. Firstly, this needs urgent improvement especially on existing buildings where the ‘golden thread’ has come too late. Without this invaluable information the duties of the accountable person will be all, but impossible. How do you provide a Safety Case Report and successfully register a building you cannot fully understand?
Secondly, who is competent to undertake this work? A level of preparation is required from organisations to ensure they have staff who they can allocate building safety management to.
One of the driving forces behind the reforms is the way buildings are being managed currently is not seen as acceptable. And to believe, once the legislation is in place and the regulations are in force, that everything can continue as it is now will not be considered a reasonable response.
Improving standards of building quality is a key driver behind the new reforms. To put this into practice, roles covering specific fire quality monitoring during the construction stage and pre-occupation fire risk assessments are being engaged to drive standards up at this critical stage. We are working with a lot of clients who are now engaging with this discipline early on in the building lifecycle as they see what a pivotal role it plays, which is really encouraging.
Expert advice speeds transition to new safety landscape
As a consultancy, we have been acting on the reforms over the last two years, preparing ourselves for what is coming through the Act and related secondary regulations. This has been a strategic decision not only to ensure we can continue to provide service excellence to all our clients but also to ensure that when the legislation is enacted we can continue to provide services without delay.
We have considerable experience assessing and reviewing estate portfolios, the related compliance procedures and assisting with the implementation of suitable fire and safety management systems and policies. This is something we see as vital to managing building safety, especially when managing a portfolio of buildings. Our experienced professionals have audited existing systems for clients and aided clients with understanding organisation competence and advised on improving fire and safety practices within an organisation. We can also provide advice on the upcoming reforms based on our current working knowledge across our multi-sector client base and help put in place procedures, training, and systems to help transition into the new environment which is on the horizon.
There is much to come over the next 12 to 18 months as the Building Safety Act moves into gear. Those organisations who are taking the opportunity to take stock now will be best placed to deal with not only the current legislation but be in the best position to react quickly as new measures are introduced.