05 - 07 March 2024 | ExCeL, London

05 - 07 March 2024 | ExCeL, London

Opinion Piece

Will the Building Safety Act delivery on the changes needed to future-proof construction?

Opinion piece by Bola Abisogun OBE, Digital Director, BIM Academy

Inspired by the ground breaking work led by Dame Judith Hackitt in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Building Safety Act is an attempt by the UK Government to ‘right the wrongs’ of the sectors historic approach to asset management, from design through construction and on into the occupational phases, in consideration of the whole-life cycle of the built asset.

Much has taken place already when it comes to improving building safety, but I fear it is not enough – we have a long way to go to future-proof the safety of those living, learning and working in the built environment.

The well documented event that began on 14 June 2017, where a fire broke out at Grenfell Tower – a 24 storey residential tower block in West London – resulting in the loss of 72 lives and as a result instigated the introduction of new legislation for the construction industry.

That is the context, as leaders across and operating within the social (and private) housing sector, that we need to embrace given our newfound obligation, legislated under the Building Safety Act.

The Act contains six parts and nine schedules, with provisions intended to secure the safety of people in or around buildings and the overarching need to improve the standard / quality of built assets.

At the core of this new (and perhaps ambitious) obligation, is the pivotal duality to mitigate fire spread and/or structural collapse. Since the day the Act was given Royal Assent in 2022, there exists an urgent need to address much needed cultural change, particularly aligned to and seen through an empathetic lens.

October 2023 deadline

As an industry, we are working to an October 2023 deadline – after which we will witness a wholesale and fundamental reform of the building safety system, called for and articulated in the independent review of building regulations conducted by Dame Judith Hackitt and published on 17 May 2018. This report led to the establishment of a new Building Safety Regulator, domiciled within the existing Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which will seek to uphold new objectives and functions.

The consequence of failure of a building owner/manager to comply could be catastrophic for the individuals concerned. And anyone who is responsible for appointing a designer or contractor to carry out any building work or any design work must undertake all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that there exists a greater appreciation of and reliance upon competence and capability.

A key requirement of the Act, that needs to be in place from October 2023, is to create, hold and maintain the golden thread of information, retained in an interoperable, digital format. The golden thread and key building information required to be submitted for high-rise buildings in particular, must be done so no later than the date of completion of the building work, which must then be submitted to the Building Safety Regulator in the form of a Building Safety Case – this is a monumental change in what was previously required of high rise building owners. This could indeed help prevent ineffective/substandard products or materials being used in our building stock.

The time has come for accountability

The time has come for us all to ‘step up’ and be more accountable to our customers and wider society. As a result, our legal requirement is no longer optional, full scale change is now upon us. All of this legislation, planning and target setting is greatly welcomed and provides essential learning tools for better understanding of the requirements of the Building Safety Act.

Failure to comply with the Building Regulations can result in a fine, an enforcement notice to remedy the work that has been carried out and even prison!

I think we can all agree, we need to put residents/occupiers at the heart of building safety and the regulations set out in the Building Safety Act will ensure that building owners take a people-first approach. This is the biggest reform in building safety in decades – and could not have come soon enough.

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