Designers of high-rise buildings urged to start preparations for new building safety regime

28th January 2022

Everyone involved in the design of high-rise buildings should take a proactive approach to managing building safety by planning ahead and preparing for the biggest overhaul of the regulatory framework in 40 years.  

That’s the message from the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) new Building Safety Regulator, which is urging designers to act now and ensure they are sufficiently prepared for the requirements set out in the Building Safety Bill, which is expected to come into full force in 2023

Once the bill receives Royal Assent, the new regime will overhaul existing building safety standards by bringing into force all of the recommendations outlined in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building a Safer Future report, which will have far-reaching implications for the construction industry.

Developed in response to the Grenfell Tower fire on the night of 14 June 2017, which claimed 72 lives, the reforms outlined in the Building Safety Bill will introduce far more stringent safety measures governing the design and construction of high-rise buildings, otherwise known as Higher-Risk Residential Buildings (HRRBs). 

Importantly, the legislation includes clear responsibilities on designers to ensure any buildings that are designed and constructed are safe, as well as new measures designed to ensure that everyone involved in design or building work has the competence to carry out that work in line with building regulations.

‘Designers have a strong influence on safety and standards, particularly during the very early planning and design stages of a building project’

Under the post-Grenfell regime, anyone who works on the design of a high-rise building – from the development of a planning application through to building regulations approval – will be required to understand the building’s intended use, correctly identify the risks, and own and manage those risks to make sure the building is safe.

Once the bill becomes law, designers will have a legal requirement to record and provide evidence of how decisions were made during the design process from the early stages through to final handover to the client. 

‘Designers have a strong influence on safety and standards, particularly during the very early planning and design stages of a building project,’ says Peter Baker, the HSE’s chief inspector of buildings and head of England’s new BSR.

‘Their decisions not only affect the safety of those carrying out the building work, but also those maintaining, using, or living in a building after it is built.’

Appointed to his new role in February 2021, Baker will oversee the regime’s new project gateways, safety case reports (covering safety risks associated with the building and how they are controlled) and new legal dutyholders, who include principal designers, principal contractors, and accountable persons, typically the person or organisation that holds responsibility for common parts of the building. 

In an interview shortly after he took up his role, Baker explained that the BSR will operate as the building control body for new builds while enforcing safety standards and professional competency requirements in around 12,500 existing HRRBs across England. 

The BSR has the powers to impose sanctions, issue compliance notices and, importantly, prosecute dutyholders, who could face fines or even imprisonment if they are found guilty of breaching safety standards. The BSR is also setting up a new mandatory reporting system for structural and fire safety breaches. 

‘Once The Building Safety Bill becomes law, there will be requirement for a safety case report when a building is completed and occupied’

In his interview, Baker explained that the BSR will scrutinise all new build HRRB projects – buildings with two or more dwellings that reach either 18m or seven storeys.

As these constructions are the most susceptible to fire or structural failures that could lead to multiple fatalities (see our explanation here), no new HRRB can be occupied under the new regime until the BSR has signed the building off as safe to occupy. Even after residents move in, the HRRBs must be managed in accordance with the BSR’s Building Assurance Certificate or, in the case of existing HRRB, the approved safety case report.

The Building Safety Bill is currently at the Report Stage in the House of Commons. Although it is anticipated that the new regime could receive Royal Assent in mid-2022, Rhian Greaves, legal director and Claire Moore, an associate in the regulatory – safety, health and environment department at DAC Beachcroft, suggest the bulk of its changes are unlikely to be in place until late 2023.

Even so, the extensive scope and reach of the proposed legislation has prompted the BSR to call on designers to start preparing now so they can respond effectively to the new regime’s requirements when they do come into force. 

‘These changes are coming,’ said Colin Blatchford, operational policy lead for  gateways and building control at the BSR. 

‘Those involved need to plan ahead through correctly identifying, taking ownership and managing the risks – ensuring key decisions are recorded throughout the process. 

‘Once the Building Safety Bill becomes law, there will be requirement for a safety case report when a building is completed and occupied. It is important to consider this at the early design stage for your clients and future residents’ safety… We urge that you act now.’

Source: IOSH Magazine