Karen Fletcher looks at the impact on construction of the Building Safety Bill which will create significant change in how the construction industry works

The draft Building Safety Bill is making its way through Parliamentary channels and should be in force by 2023.

I realise that two years seems like aeons of time to the construction sector, which tends to think not much further than the next project.

But rest assured that this legislation is like of one of those World War 2 bombs occasionally unearthed on building sites.

It seems harmless enough, but you’re not just going to shovel on some topsoil and hope for the best. Tackling the Building Safety Bill needs a professional approach – and prompt action.

Proving competence, and being able to provide documentation will be crucial

Karen Fletcher Karen Fletcher Content Director of Rocket Content

Hackitt Review

The Bill is one of the primary outcomes of the Hackitt Review into Building Regulations and Fire Safety following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Dame Judith Hackitt herself has said this Bill will create significant change in how the construction industry works.

At the 2020 BESA Conference, she said: “It will no longer be possible for developers, designers, and building owners to say that they did simply what the rules told them; or worse still, that the rules didn’t tell them they couldn’t do it, so they did it anyway.”

Of course, the Bill as it stands, will apply only to ‘high risk’ buildings. Specifically, it refers to residential buildings over 18m high, including new and existing buildings.

About 13,000 structures fall into the current remit – and a significant proportion of those seem likely to require remediation work.

Devil in the detail

But before any Hub readers who don’t work in the domestic sector now switch off, be warned:  The devil is in the detail. Because while that is the current remit of the Building Safety Bill, that may not remain the case.

Dame Judith explained: “It’s important for me to highlight some of the small print in the Building Safety Bill. It says quite clearly that that is the scope from which the Building Safety Regulation will start. If the new Building Safety Regulator finds evidence of a two-tier culture developing, the scope will extend.”

This means that whatever rules are in place for the domestic, high-risk buildings, should be regarded as applying to all buildings.

And if the industry doesn’t recognise that, then the Regulator has the power to extend the regulation.

Responsibility

The Building Safety Regulator is another one of the outcomes of the Hackitt Review.

The Regulator will sit within the Health & Safety Executive. Accompanying this will be a new Inspector of Building Safety. They will oversee a regime that will put the emphasis very much on responsibility at every stage of the construction process, and beyond.

For the HVAC sector, this is one of the most important changes. If a principal engineer or contractor is answerable to the Inspector and Regulator, they will look for assurance that any of their sub-contractors and specialists are competent and quality-assured.

Proving competence, and being able to provide documentation will be two crucial factors that could make a big difference in how main contractors view a business.

There is an argument that spending on areas such as training and accreditation makes services easy to undercut by companies who don’t bother about these things.

Recognising leadership

But Dame Judith knows the construction industry well enough to have considered that issue: “We are working on ways to recognise those companies who are showing leadership and who are moving forward without waiting. And we are looking at some exciting ideas about ways in which we can accredit people for being there; being in at the front and being leaders. So that the people who are contracting those services can make intelligent decisions about using the right people.”

She also pointed out that the Regulator will follow the same philosophy of enforcement as the H&SE, which the construction industry is very familiar with: “You have been dealing with HSE for more than 40 years. You know how HSE operates. If you’re trying to do the right thing, the Regulator works with you in a constructive and helpful way. If you’re trying to game the system; trying to take shortcuts, that’s when they get tough.

“That philosophy will translate into the new Building Safety Regulator because it will be a smart Regulator who is ready to work with those who want to do the right thing and is ready to get tough on those who don’t.”

Time to get ahead

The HVAC sector has a considerable influence on safety in buildings, domestic and commercial, whether it’s designing and installing ventilation systems; applying fire dampers; or even working with building management systems.

The new Bill will create change, and there is a real political will to make this happen.

The year 2023 may seem some time away, but perhaps January 2021 might be the time to start getting ahead of this Bill and ahead of the competition.

Karen Fletcher is former editor of Modern Building Services and CIBSE Journal