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Building Safety Bill: Familiar concepts, ‘but much to learn’

26th July 2021

Last week saw England’s Building Safety Bill finally make its way into Parliament; the first formal legislative step in the government’s vow to ‘deliver the biggest changes to building safety for nearly 40 years’.

For those already steeped in building safety, there are lots of familiar concepts; identified roles to be appointed, information to be shared and activities to be co-ordinated. A structure quite clearly rooted in CDM. But there is also plenty that is new and much that needs to be done – some of it now.

In this article, we look at some of the key provisions.

WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE BILL?

The new law is designed to achieve greater accountability for fire and structural safety issues throughout the complete lifecycle of a building; from design through construction to occupation and beyond.

WHICH BUILDINGS ARE INCLUDED?

The bulk of the Bill addresses the risks posed by ‘higher risk’ buildings, but some sections have wider application.

Higher risk buildings are high rise; either more than 18m from ground level or at least seven storeys. The Bill then captures different building types. For example:

  • for the purposes of the design, construction and refurbishment requirements properties with at least two residential units, care homes and hospitals are to be included;
  • for those parts of the Bill relating to occupation of a building, this covers residential properties only – again with at least two residential units.

WHO ARE THE DUTY HOLDERS?

The new regime will impose responsibility for compliance with building regulations on CDM duty holders including the Principal Designer and Principal Contractor. These duties will be in addition to existing duties under the CDM Regulations relating to construction site safety.

The Bill also introduces new in-occupation roles for higher-risk buildings:

  • Accountable Person (AP): this will typically be the person or organisation that is responsible for common parts of the building. In multi-occupancy situations, there may be more than one AP, in which case there must be co-ordination and communication between them and a Principal AP must be identified. APs are primarily responsible for the fire and structural safety of higher risk buildings. This includes managing the “golden thread” of information.
  • Building Safety Manager (BSM): appointed by the AP, the BSM is responsible for the day to day management of fire and structural safety.

The Bill provides some shape to these roles but further regulations are expected to fully detail the legal obligations.

All appointees – whether under the Bill or CDM – must be competent to fulfil their respective roles and work is underway to produce a suite of national competence standards.

WHAT IS THE ‘GOLDEN THREAD’?

One of the key changes the Bill introduces is a ‘golden thread’ of information about a building which is to be created and maintained. This is ‘to ensure the right people have the right information at the right time to ensure buildings are safe and…risks are managed throughout the lifecycle’ of a property.

To achieve this, the Bill creates three ‘Gateways’ at which information must be recorded and stored:

  • Gateway 1: planning authorities will require a Fire Statement to ensure that fire safety considerations have been incorporated into design proposals.
  • Gateway 2: the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) will require information to show how the development, once built, will comply with Building Regulations. Work cannot commence until the BSR is satisfied. This replaces the current “deposit of full plans” stage.
  • Gateway 3: this is the equivalent to the current completion or final certificate stage and applies once construction is complete. There must be an assessment to ensure the work has been carried out in compliance with the law and with the previously submitted information. The information is then handed to the AP.

HOW WILL THIS BE REGULATED?

The BSR has already been set up on an interim basis within the HSE. Peter Baker has been appointed as Chief Inspector of Buildings and will lead the new regulator. Read IOSH magazine’s interview with him here.

The BSR will implement a new, more stringent regulatory regime for higher risk buildings and will oversee their registration and inspection. This includes:-

  • decision making during the design, construction, occupation and refurbishment of higher risk buildings;
  • regulation of Building Inspectors and Building Control Approvers – the BSR will establish and maintain a register;
  • assisting and encouraging competence amongst those working in the built environment;’the power to issue ‘Stop’ and “Compliance’ Notices where there are breaches; and
  • the ability to prosecute businesses and individuals.

WHEN WILL THIS HAPPEN?

The government expects it will be at least nine months – April 2022 – before the Bill becomes law. The new regime will then be introduced over the next 12 to 18 months, meaning that the bulk of the changes will be in place by October 2023.

However, Gateway 1 will be introduced on 1 August 2021. Those involved in planning will therefore need to be ready for that imminent change.

WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW?

It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the changes proposed. But for safety practitioners, the concepts are familiar and well established.

Key steps to take at this stage include:

  • Complete an inventory of your estate to ensure you understand which of your buildings are potentially impacted.
  • Identify which elements of the Bill apply to your organisation and think about how you will comply and how you can positively demonstrate that you do. Will you need additional training? Will you need more resource? Will you need to recruit? Will you need professional advice? Will you need new partnerships with others who can help you comply?
  • Set out a plan for your organisation’s compliance based on the specific risks presented by your property portfolio. This will need to be a living document that can be adapted as we learn more.
  • Monitor the progress of the Bill and the associated Regulations and guidance. Much of the detail is still to come.

Whilst the Bill is not yet law, the intention from the Government is clear – from the early introduction of Gateway 1 to setting up the interim regulator – these changes are coming. The businesses that prepare early will be best placed to adapt.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I NEED TO KNOW?

Yes! The Bill is enormous in its scope and reach and will need detailed review in affected organisations.

And there’ll be more. We are still to see all of the implementing regulations that put the detail into the new roles, we are also expecting statutory guidance around competence and there are related reforms in fire safety legislation too. Monitoring developments is now key in the months ahead.

Rhian Greaves is legal director and Claire Moore is an associate in the regulatory – safety, health and environment department at DAC Beachcroft

Source: IOSH Magazine