The Building Safety Bill is now in committee stage, under line-by-line scrutiny. This is the legislation to bring in the most radical changes to building safety law in more than 50 years. As well as creating a new regulatory framework for all building work notified to a building control body, it will place new duties on those responsible for the safety of high-rise residential buildings.
The bill creates a new Building Safety Regulator with overall responsibility for the building control process. Part 4 of the bill creates a new and more stringent regime for buildings defined as higher risk – which the bill defines as being residential buildings more than 18m high or with seven or more storeys.
The regime covers the planning, design and construction of all these buildings. In addition, high-rise residential buildings will also be regulated in operation and will require a safety case report, which must be submitted to the new regulator.
Although fires and serious structural incidents in high-rise residential buildings are mercifully rare, the consequences for people in or around the building can be catastrophic, and a single incident affects many people and their homes.
Grenfell Tower is a stark reminder of the disastrous and tragic results of such incidents. The explosion at Ronan Point, in May 1968, triggered major changes to structural design codes to reduce the risk of progressive collapse. While rare, we must seek to prevent these awful incidents.
The bill proposes a proportionate, systematic and more stringent regulatory approach to prevent or reduce the spread of a serious fire or structural failure
The bill proposes a proportionate, systematic and more stringent regulatory approach to prevent or reduce the spread of a serious fire or structural failure. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) paper Safety case principles for high-rise residential buildings1 gives early insights into the safety case regime for high-rise residential buildings, and outlines the new approach (for England) to manage and control major hazards, defined as fire and structural failure, in buildings.
It defines a major hazard as an event that has the potential to cause significant harm or damage, as well as the risk, or likelihood, of that event occurring. Those responsible for operating and managing buildings covered by the new regime will need to assess the potential building safety risks in their building, as well as what can be done to reduce the risk of occurrence and mitigate the consequences. It reminds them that they will have to own and manage the risks associated with their building, and will be expected to consider what could go wrong, and what the impact would be.
The main categories of major hazard to be addressed are fire and structural failure, which have the potential to cause a catastrophic and immediate incident and risk to life. This does not mean that other hazards to long-term health – such as damp, condensation and inadequate heating, or overheating in heatwaves that may cause the premature death of vulnerable residents – are not present, but they do not have the potential for rapid and catastrophic injury, damage or loss of life.
The HSE describes what it expects in a safety case report and how it may be presented. There is advice on what is not wanted. Above all, it emphasises the need for those responsible, particularly the Accountable Person, critically to think about each building independently, and not take a template or ‘one I prepared earlier’ approach.
The safety case report must be submitted to the new regulator, who may seek further information and evidence to support the conclusions in the report. They will expect it to be a dynamic case, being used in the day-to-day management of the building to keep residents and other stakeholders safe.
The legislation is still in parliament and may change, and the detailed safety case policy is still under development. There will be more guidance to follow on it and how it relates to other policies, such as the golden thread. But for those who are responsible for high-rise residential buildings, the guidance offers a good start to begin preparing the case that their building is managed for safety.
- Safety case principles for high-rise residential buildings: building safety reform – early key messages, HSE, September 2021.
About the author
Dr Hywel Davies is technical director at CIBSE