Time to act on safety

A recent survey of building services firms reveals that 70% are doing nothing as a business to prepare for the Building Safety Act. Hywel Davies explains why this should be of serious concern to all Journal readers

Regular readers already know that the Building Safety Act, which became law more than six months ago, is the most fundamental reform of the regulation of building work in England and Wales since World War II.

It establishes the Building Safety Regulator (BSR), with a statutory duty to exercise its powers to ‘[secure] the safety of people in or about buildings in relation to risks arising from buildings, and [improve] the standard of buildings’.

It also allows competence requirements to be imposed in relation to ‘any building work’ regulated by the Building Act. In spite of this, it is obvious that most of the industry is sleepwalking into the brave new world of the BSR, ignoring – or unaware of – the changes that will affect them soon.

In conversation with a CIBSE Regional chair, it emerged that their organisation, a significant public sector building operator, had been advised by ‘health and safety experts’ that they only had one building covered by the act. There is a widespread myth that because the Building Safety Act is the government’s response to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, and that was a high-rise block of flats, the act is all about making blocks of flats safer. Believe me, that is a fantasy, – wishful thinking even.

While the act would not have happened without the dreadful loss of life at Grenfell Tower, it is formally the government’s response to the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety by Dame Judith Hackitt in 2018.

In her foreword, Dame Judith said: ‘What is described in this report is an integrated systemic change, not a shopping list of changes that can be picked out on a selective basis.’ The government accepted the report and all its recommendations, and the act is introducing that ‘integrated systemic change’ – and it applies to all regulated building work.

Those who think I am a fantasist, making this up – and that it’s all about tall blocks of flats – should turn to the consultation on implementing Part 3 of the act, which is about changing the Building Act 1984 and Building Regulations 2010. This sets out how the government intends to implement the act in 2023.

These are the government’s words:

2.1 The Building Safety Act 2022 amends the Building Act 1984 to create powers to prescribe requirements on those who procure, plan, manage and undertake building work, also known as dutyholders. The proposals will set out a framework of duties for dutyholders, make clear who they are, and impose specific duties on them. These dutyholders will be the client, principal designer, designers, principal contractor and contractors.

2.2 Our proposals also include the competence requirements on anyone carrying out design or building work, and those who appoint them, to take reasonable steps to ensure that they are competent to perform their functions in relation to the design and construction of buildings.

Section 2.3 will set out proposed requirements which will apply in relation to any work or matter to which the Building Regulations 2010 are applicable.

So, there – in black and white – are the new dutyholder requirements to be set out in regulations,for any building work ‘to which the Building Regulations apply’. If your firm does such work, then the Building Safety Act will change the way you work. Clients that procure building work will have to start taking ‘reasonable steps to ensure that [those you employ] are competent’.

If your organisation is one of the sleeping 70%, you need to wake up now. Put section 2 of the consultation document in front of the key decision makers, and ask them what they are going to do, now, to prepare.

The new regulations are due next spring. It’s time for all in the industry to act. Today. The CIBSE and Actuate UK responses to the consultation on implementation of Part 3 of the Building Safety Act is available here.

CIBSE offers an introductory one-day course on the Building Safety Act. For more details visit here.

About the author:
Dr Hywel Davies is technical director at CIBSE www.cibse.org