Changing the system

New chief inspector of buildings Peter Baker will have extensive regulatory powers to ensure building safety

Peter Baker was appointed, earlier this year, to head up the Building Safety Regulator (BSR), which was established by the Health and Safety Executive in response to recommendations in the Building a Safer Future report by Dame Judith Hackitt. He will lead the delivery of the new safety regime for high-rise buildings, oversee work to increase competence, and ensure effective oversight of the entire building safety environment. Baker’s responsibilities, which are laid out in the draft Safety Bill, include a new role – head of the building control profession.

The BSR will be responsible for signing off building safety information compiled by duty holders at different stages – or ‘gateways’ – of the building’s design and construction. Five categories of duty holder will be created during the construction phase (RIBA 5-7): client; principal designer; designer; principal contractor; and contractor. These are similar to health and safety roles under the 2015 CDM Regulations. Here, Baker explains what duty holders, and other companies and individuals, will need to consider in the post-Grenfell regulatory landscape.

What are the current responsibilities of the BSR?

Since January last year, when the BSR was appointed, I –alongside others – have been, full time, building the infrastructure and programme, ready for when the BSR receives its legal powers. We know enough about the principles of where the government is trying to get to, to plan the implementation of the new regime in 18 months to two years. Part of that is my appointment as the chief building inspector.

How will the new regulatory regime affect construction?

For high-rise buildings, we’re shifting the balance away from relying on the building control regulator to sign off safety documents, to a system where those who create the risk will regulate it.   

Part of the new regime, particularly in the construction phase, is about designing a building to prevent a fire, and – in the unlikely event of a fire – to ensure you have all the necessary steps in place to stop it from escalating. It’s going to require a step change in approach, attitude, culture and behaviour. The whole idea of demonstration of safety approaches requires a different mindset. Contractors will have to be managed to ensure they are competent and doing the job properly.

The construction gateway will be about demonstrating to the BSR, who will be the building control body, that you’ve got the management system in place. I expect construction to cope with this, as it mirrors CDM; it should be a natural progression. For some it will be straightforward, but I imagine some businesses – particularly SMEs – will struggle with this in the same way they struggled with CDM.

How will changes affect buildings less than six storeys high?

The new high-rise buildings regime applies to buildings that are more than 18m, or six storeys, high. The view is that the risk requires an additional layer of regulation during construction and occupation. That doesn’t mean a building of 17 metres shouldn’t be built properly. Evidence is emerging from the Grenfell enquiry about standards of construction generally.

The BSR will have oversight of the existing building regulatory system. We will make sure local authority and approved inspectors are operating at a consistent level of competence. Ultimately, there is an expectation that all these principles of improved standards and safety in buildings will trickle down through the built environment.

The BSR will also have responsibility for the Approved Documents. You will see a much greater sense of proportionality and target/goal-setting language and tone.

How will you work with the new safety regulator for construction products?

The Office for Product Safety and the new products regulator will have much to do to improve the robustness of product safety.

Under the new regime, a lot of the demonstrations at the gateways that will need to be made to the BSR will rely on the product testing and development regime – that is, that a product will do what it says on the tin. Clearly, at the moment, confidence in the system is pretty thin for all sorts of reasons.

We will have a number of workstreams to see how the two regulators work together.

What should engineers do to ensure they’re prepared for the changes?

The work on the competency frameworks is being driven by professional bodies, such as CIBSE, and the majority are pretty well linked in and aligned with all the work that is going on. My message is to make sure you are aware of what the professional bodies are doing. Keep in touch with what is emerging through competency groups and what the BSR is doing with the competency framework. If you want to influence the direction of travel, the professional bodies are the way to do it.