The UK Building Safety Act provides the vision for a new safety regulatory regime for the construction industry. It has achieved Royal Assent five years after the Grenfell Tower fire and brings in a major programme of between 12 to 18 months of new secondary legislation and guidance. October 2023 is the date for the diary.
This Act effectively puts into law how to competently procure, design, deliver and maintain buildings to improve safety for residents and users. An assumption that all those concerned would naturally have this at the forefront of their processes and procedures has been shown to be seriously flawed and was identified in the Building a Safer Future report (May 2018) by Dame Judith Hackitt.
So who will be affected by the new legislation?
Everyone involved in the design, delivery, operation, maintenance and use of a project, past or present, will have increased accountability and legal liability for their role and will need to engage with the new rules in order to stay on the right side of the law. This includes everyone from the commissioning client (public or private), to architects, contractors, installers and residents.
A common misconception is that the Act only relates to high-risk buildings (HRBs) of 18 metres in height and above. In fact, the Act relates to buildings of all heights and all types across England and Wales with additional requirements for those classified as higher risk.
How will the Act effect the construction industry?
The new Act is a defining moment for the construction industry, responding to the Hackitt report’s findings of a lack of responsibility, accountability and competence throughout the whole construction industry from client through the design team, to the contractors and to those who manage and operate buildings.
We will all be required to demonstrate our competence.
What are the duties?
There are now defined roles for all design and building work, based on the CDM model (i.e. client, principal designer, principal contractor, designers, contractors) to provide clear accountability throughout procurement, design and construction.
Each role has defined competence requirements - ensuring all those carrying out design or building work have appropriate knowledge, skills and experience and supervisionare. The requirements are defined in general terms in The Building (Appointment of Persons, Industry Competence and Duty holders) England Regulations to be supplemented by official guidance being developed by the BSI.
All duty holders will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the building regulations and will have prescribed duties to enable them to carry this out. Additionally there is a mandatory requirement to report to the new Building Safety Regulator (BSR) any fire or structural safety incidents or presence.
The Principal Designer (PD) or Principal Contractor (PC), is typically an organisation rather than an individual, however the organisation must designate a competent individual to manage its functions as the PD or PC on each and every project. Pre-construction, this is typically the architect or lead designer. Scott Brownrigg have been carrying out the role of CDM Principal Designer since the CDM legislation introduced it in 2015.
What does the Building Safety Regulator do?
The establishment of the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will:
- oversee the safety and standards of all buildings
- help and encourage the built environment industry and building control professionals to improve their competence
- lead implementation of the new regulatory framework for high-rise buildings
How are “Higher Risk Buildings” defined?
It was recognised that within the construction industry there are a group of buildings that could be classified as ‘higher risk’. These building types have been defined by both a height and use condition and are named as ‘in scope’ within the Act. They are defined in the draft Higher-Risk Buildings (Descriptions and Supplementary Provisions) Regulations and allow for amendment to their definition of it.
These building types are subject to an enhanced building control approval regime with ‘Three Gateways’ (stop/go decision points) requiring approval before the moving on to the next stage:
- Gateway 1 is already in place through existing planning legislation requiring a fire statement to be submitted with the planning application;
- Gateway 2 will be the equivalent of ‘Full Plans’ (RIBA Stage 4) approval before construction may start and
- Gateway 3 is approval of the completed construction before occupation.
What has happened to the ‘Golden Thread’?
The creation of a ‘Golden Thread’ of digital building information, which will start during the design stage and throughout construction and refurbishment, has been established. This is to be enabled by the provision of a digital platform provided by the client for the design team, contractors to upload and store this information. The information and documents (as yet not defined by the government or in what format) and the information management processes (also unknown) provided in it are to be kept updated throughout the building’s lifecycle to support the management of building safety risks.
This will require the appointment of relevant professionals earlier than currently generally carried out, and the completion of RIBA Stage 4 before construction starts. This will potentially affect funding, funding streams, fees, design and construction programmes and possibly land and property values.
Significantly- clients will no longer be able to appoint their own Approved Inspector or local Building Control service – the Building Safety Regulator will assign an approved one to them.
How will it affect architects?
The Building Safety Act makes it clear that the principal designer is to be the designer in control of the project. Businesses who have been carrying out the CDM principal designer role alongside their lead designer role will have a head-start in carrying out the BSA principal designer role. They will already have processes and procedures in place to address competency, project management, design team appointments, and identification and recording of CDM risks.
There will be additional competency requirements for those who design and construct “higher-risk buildings”. The anticipated requirement for previous similar building typology experience, and the complexity of the signing-off arrangements on completion, may lead to only a small group of architectural practices who will be in a position to carry this out.
All “higher-risk buildings” will be required to be registered with the Building Safety Regulator. There are understood to be around 12,000 of them currently across the UK, all of which will need to have approved building safety documentation – known as the ‘Safety Case Report’ (not yet defined). Each will need to be inspected by the BSR before registration is given. Architects could be well placed to help their clients to manage this process with their existing properties.
What information is available so far, and when is it likely to come into play?
The Building Safety Bill received Royal Assent on the 28 April 2022. The provisions noted above are likely to come into force in October 2023 with the government expected to have issued all necessary relevant secondary legislation and guidance six months prior to allow the industry to prepare.
What is clear will be the need to partner with the right team when embarking on a project. Commissioning parties are likely to need help navigating the complexities of the Building Safety Act, setting up required processes, and implementing an effective safety design strategy for their project. They will need to establish a base of trusted partners; experienced, competent and able to comply with new regulations every step of the way. They may need an independent review of incomplete projects designed by other architects, while others will need help analysing and resolving issues associated with existing buildings in operation. For new projects, digital information management will be key in ensuring the right level of detail is present at each stage of the design process, and helping to maintain the golden thread.
For the latest information and updates and more detail on the Building Safety Act, visit:
Scott Brownrigg have a long history of delivering pre-construction and construction Health & Safety requirements, and have recently launched Design Management Unit, assisting clients to achieve cost and risk certainty on projects in the UK and worldwide. Please get in touch if we can support you.
We are now also recruiting a new role - Head of Design Safety - to lead our safety design services and champion the importance of health and safety in our projects, promoting a culture of safety across the whole global practice. If you are a qualified architect, technologist or other construction professional passionate about design safety, we’d love to hear from you. Find out more here.