New safety regulation to address tall building risks post Grenfell

A new Building Safety Bill in the UK turns the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt thorough independent review of building regulations and fire safety into legislation. It will be formally introduced in the House of Commons in 2021, marking four years since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower that claimed 72 lives.

The Building Safety Regulator

The biggest change the Builiding Safety Bill (opens a new window) is introducing is the creation of a Building Safety Regulator within the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The new regulatory body’s responsibility is to make ‘in-scope’ buildings safer, defined as multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height, or more than six storeys. There are approximately 13,000 of such buildings in the remit of the Bill, according to the Government. These buildings present a higher risk because fire or structural failure could lead to multiple fatalities.

The Building Safety Regulator’s responsibilities include the implementation and enforcement of the new and more stringent regulatory regime for buildings with stronger oversight of the safety and performance of all buildings, assisting and encouraging competence among the built environment industry including registered building inspectors. To enforce the new rules the regulator can introduce sanctions including notices, fines and imprisonment. It will also be responsible for promoting competence among building and maintenance professionals and higher standards across the built environment.

The duty holder rule

The Bill also introduces a new duty holder role of the "accountable person" for tall buildings. Generally, the accountable person will be the owner, the building leaseholder, or the management company. The accountable person’s role will include helping to maintain the information flow between the duty holders at all stages of construction and occupation to avoid major safety lapses. They will also be responsible for ensuring residents’ safety and consulting with them. Residents are getting more control and are being empowered to feed back to the building owners through the accountable person. The Bill introduces a new homes ombudsman scheme to enable owners of new builds to escalate complaints and promote better standards among developers.

The accountable person must develop and submit the building’s ‘safety case report’ to the regulator on the safety risks associated with the building and how they are controlled, and appoint a competent building safety manager to support them in ensuring residents are protected. The building safety manager reports to the accountable person and will be responsible for managing operational safety of high-risk buildings in use.

More transparency

The Bill also establishes a new system of approval for construction products with provision for their restriction if they do not meet required standards. It also introduces gateways, sign-off points for critical safety information before construction or occupation can proceed. Three fixed stages are included in the design, construction and handover for use of a building in the higher-risk category to ensure that vital safety information is provided to the regulator.
New training and development programmes will need to be designed for architects working on tall buildings along with strict competence criteria for the new building safety managers. 

Challenges for all stakeholders: 

  • Buildings may change hands repeatedly or may be purchased by overseas investors, making it difficult to keep track of who fills the role of accountable person.

  • Mixed-use buildings may have multiple accountable persons creating challenges with coordinating ongoing communication and integrated life safety systems.

  • Building owners need to transition to the new duty holder principle and own the responsibility for delivering buildings that are safe to the occupants.

  • The new duty holding positions must be seen in context of other regulations such as those mandated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 with its ‘responsible’ and ‘competent’ persons and, during construction, with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, which includes duties for principal designers, principal contractors and clients. 

  • Having a process in place which offers required training and development programmes with qualifications and exams in time to deliver the expertise and capabilities when it’s needed.

Most of the draft Bill’s provisions apply primarily to England and Wales but the rest of the UK may follow. The draft Bill is formulated as a framework law, laying the ground for multiple pieces of secondary legislation. Though much less detailed than the Building Safety Bill, the Fire Safety Bill (opens a new window) is expected to result in greater clarity over responsibility for fire safety in buildings containing more than one home, which could have a significant impact on architects (opens a new window).

Introducing new and emerging connected technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), remote monitoring and cloud connectivity of smoke detectors could potentially help create efficiencies (opens a new window) and relieve some of the burden of fire prevention, while also making life safer and easier for tenants.

For further information, please contact: 

Darren Cook, Risk Management Executive Risk Control Services

T +44 (0)7770 133953 | E (opens a new window)