A guide to the Building Safety Bill
Proposed new legislation represents biggest change to building safety legislation for nearly 40 years
Initially draft-released in June 2020, over four years after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the 218-page Building Safety Bill has now been published fully. It was introduced to the House of Commons on Monday 5 July 2021 for its First Reading, and the date for a Second Reading is yet to be confirmed.
The Building Safety Bill (applicable to England and Wales) is set to transform how tall structures are designed, constructed and managed, with the Government describing the changes proposed as the biggest for almost four decades.
At its heart, the set of reforms within the Bill are designed to shore up compliance loopholes and provide clearer accountability for construction products and services, as well as fire safety. Tougher ‘lifecycle’ frameworks will be set from the planning and building of a premise to its management and monitoring.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will act as a new Building Safety Regulator (as well as the Building Control body for high-risk buildings), bringing checks and balances in line with its already established protocols and best practices in other areas. Tougher penalties will also be put in place for anyone who breaks the rules being put forward, in particular any building owner who does not ‘demonstrate that they have effective, proportionate measures in place to manage safety risks’.
These are the biggest changes to building safety legislation for nearly 40 years, and they will raise standards across the industry and ensure building owners have nowhere to hide if they break the rules.
Lord Greenhalgh Building safety and fire minister
Does the Building Safety Bill apply to all buildings?
The legislation, in its current form, will apply to high-risk residential buildings (typically high-rise apartment blocks, student accommodation, hospitals and larger care homes) that measure over 18m in height or have seven or more storeys.
What are the main points of interest in the Bill?
The Golden Thread
A defining element of the Building Safety Bill is a ‘golden thread’ of information, which in basic terms will act as a digital – and always-accessible – audit trail throughout the life of a building. While no explicit directive is given for data gathering/holding, it’s clear that effective, collaborative whole-lifecycle BIM solutions will be essential to the success of this core aspect of the Bill.
Duty Holder clarification
Definitive responsibilities will be assigned to the full spectrum of duty holders involved in a building project – such as the client, the principal designer, designer, principal contractor, or contractor. Effectively, anyone who might create a risk during their contribution to a construction or refurbishment – either as an individual or via a multi-disciplinary service provider – will be expected to manage that risk and its associated compliance demands.
It is only right that those who commission building work and who participate in the design and construction process take responsibility for ensuring building safety is carefully considered throughout the project and the building is fully compliant with building regulations, thereby ensuring that residents are safe and feel safe.
Clarity is provided on the role and accountability of the ‘Accountable Person’, who oversees and/or manages the building post-build. This individual is accountable for registering the building with the Building Safety Regulator and regularly logging information about the building to reviewing risk assessments and appointing a Building Safety Manager.
The Building Safety Bill seeks to amend the Building Act 1984, bringing in a Gateway approach which will see a stage-by-stage scoping process employed, with the aim of ‘compartmentalising’ each phase of a build or refurbishment rather than relying solely on potentially more ambiguous or insufficient overall final checks.
Building Control reforms
Clients will not be able to choose their Building Control partner on the high-risk residential buildings in scope, but must lodge their application with the Building Safety Regulator who will administer the process.
Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 amendments – Fire Safety Act 2021
More prescriptive guidance is set in the new Fire Safety Act 2021, particularly aimed at the building owner ‘responsible person’, including fire risk assessments which must consider external walls and all fire doors entering onto common parts, and the competency for those involved in the process and its documentation. Tougher financial penalties are also a feature of the new reforms.
Top 5 considerations for building design, construction & management
- Clients, principal designers, and contractors need to think carefully how they are to ensure they meet their responsibilities under the Bill and how their teams need to be expanded/ trained and to ensure they do not fail and become liable.
- The introduction of the Gateway 1 means that earlier consideration needs to be given to fire strategies to ensure passage through the planning process.
- The introduction of Gateway 2 means that projects in scope design and build cannot be used.
- The introduction of the ‘golden thread’ means further digital investment will be needed to record the lifecycle of the building
- Everyone needs to work with the mindset that the operational safety of the building is key and accountability does not stop at the end of the design or construction.
Planning for progress
In anticipation of Royal Ascension in early-mid 2022, the Government has set out a series of probable steps that will be taken in the first twelve months following the Bill’s passage.
- Establishing the Residents’ Panel within the Building Safety Regulator.
- Extending the limitation period of the Defective Premises Act 1972 retrospectively – and applying this Act to refurbishments prospectively.
- Additional powers for the regulation of construction products, including paving the way for a national regulator for construction products, which is being established within the Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS).
- Changes to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
- Strengthening the powers of the Architects Registration Board to monitor the competence of architects.
- Removal of the Democratic Filter for social housing residents.
While the new Bill will inevitably force many built environment service providers to reassess their methods and standards though a ‘clear, proportionate framework for the design, construction and management of safer, high-quality homes’, Sweco Building Control is already promoting and enabling better information management and enhancing safety protocols with innovative Building Control services and audit-trail tools.
As scrutiny increases on our industry, we continue to set the standards for enhanced consultancy and digital services that allow duty holders and accountable persons to have the higher level of certainty – and documented accountability – required to meet their obligations.
Neil Badley Building Control Director