Safety routes: assuring competence under the building safety regime

To comply with the Building Safety Act, engineers will have to prove their competence and assure the safety of buildings they design, construct and operate. CABE’s Richard Harral and CIBSE’s Hywel Davies discuss key challenges for industry professionals

Richard Harral (left) and Hywel Davies (right)

The Building Safety Act is the biggest shake-up of building regulation since World War II. Getting to grips with the new regulatory regime will be a challenge for construction and property industries, which will have to work across disciplines to manage safety and ensure workforces are competent to design, construct and operate buildings.

In December, CIBSE and the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) will combine their conferences to form Building Performance Week at ExCeL in London. With a theme of performance, compliance and safety, the event will include seminars from CIBSE and CABE. 

To mark the initiative, CIBSE’s chief technical officer Hywel Davies, and CABE’s technical director Richard Harral FCABE collaborated on a video about the challenges industry is facing. Below are some of the key issues they discussed, including the need to improve competency around safety. 

Competency is key

‘It’s a massive change for everything we build, and I’m not sure many people in the industry realise that,’ says Davies. ‘Clients are going to have a duty to make sure that the people they appoint are competent.’

Harral agrees that the requirements for managing competence are ‘absolutely enormous changes’. The Building Safety Act requires that systems are in place to manage competence, he adds, which means assessing people and understanding what they can and can’t do. ‘It means having the right systems in place to allocate competent people to do tasks as they come up, so you get the right people doing the right job,’ says Harral.

There are also duties to collaborate, share information and walk away if you think work is not compliant. ‘Designers have an obligation to raise concerns about the work of any other person in the design team if they believe it may be non-compliant,’ says Harral. 

Clients are also required to ensure there is sufficient time and resource for clients to deliver work that is compliant. ‘For the first time, clients can be held accountable if they don’t make a reasonable assessment of cost – we know that’s a problem – and don’t allow sufficient time for the work to be executed properly, which is also a problem,’ says Harral.

CABE is working with the engineering council, CIBSE and other institutions to develop a competency registration process for engineers to demonstrate competence on HRBs. There will be a general assessment and more specific criteria for fire, structural, and building services engineers. A register of engineers who have gone through the process will be made publicly accessible. 

Making the case for safety

For the first time, up to 13,000 residential buildings over 18m, or seven or more stroeys in height, will be regulated by the HSE. Known as higher-risk buildings (HRBs), they will have to be registered by the owner with the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) and a Safety Case Report – outlining how building risks are being managed – created. New HRBs must also be registered with the BSR before they are occupied. 

Existing HRBs will have to be registered by October and, from April 2024, the BSR will start to examine the Safety Case Reports. Those responsible for the report – the principal accountable person (PAP) – will have 28 days to respond once they are contacted by the regulator. The PAP must perform a building safety risk assessment and introduce measures to manage building safety risks. ‘People have got to start preparing those safety cases now,’ says Davies. ‘Once they are called in, the regulator will be looking at them very carefully.’

The regulator will examine the safety case and may send an inspector to the building to verify the accountable persons’ arrangements for managing safety risks. If they are satisfied, the regulator will issue a Building Assessment Certificate for the building, lasting approximately five years.

Raising competency around building saftey

CABE is involved with two initiatives to support the new regulatory regime set out in the Building Safety Act 2022.

It is working with the Engineering Council and other professional engineering institutes to develop a registration process by which building engineers can demonstrate their competence to work on higher-risk buildings (HRBs) when discharging design, construction and maintenance duties under the Act. Assessment for HRB registration will be made against a bespoke competence framework known as UK SPEC for HRB. 

The Building Inspector Competence Framework and Assessment will provide an assessment route for those working in building control to become registered building inspectors. Assessment will be based on a specialist competency framework. 

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A huge change will be the focus on enforcement. ‘The BSR, as part of the HSE, sees enforcement not just as something that’s normal, but also as absolutely essential – as a day-to-day part of their work,’ says Harral. ‘The BSR will be looking to identify repeat bad actors, and it’s going to start targeting them with the very extensive regulatory and investigative powers.’ 

This is in stark contrast to today. ‘We’ve worked in the construction industry for decades where enforcement of Building Regulations has been incredibly rare, to the point of being non-existent,’ says Harral.

Another significant change is that there is no time limit on enforcement for non-compliance with Building Regulations, so a prosecution can be brought at any point in the building’s life-cycle, says Harral.

The Act also introduces Building Liability Orders, which prevent developers from escaping liability for safety defects by hiding behind complicated legal structures. ‘The government has cut off at the knees the ability of industry to evade accountability,’ says Harral.

Another procedural requirement that will affect how buildings are procured is ‘mandatory occurrence reporting’. This will ensure the BSR can capture any risks that have a potential impact on fire and structural safety, and assess the relevance of these to other buildings. ‘It requires any incident that could give rise to a serious non-compliance to be reported to the regulator and details of the corrective actions provided,’ says Harral.

This should address cost-driven product substitutions, or modifications to design and specification during the construction phase. If products fundamental to the safety of the building are swapped out, the BSR will want to know that the alternatives will not undermine the safety of the building. 

  • CIBSE’s Build2Perform and CABE’s NEW Built Environment LIVE will take place at London’s ExCeL on 5-6 December 2023.