In the wake of the devastating Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017, legislators were forced to answer some tough questions about construction management and the safety of large, multi-occupancy buildings in the UK.
Now, following an independent review of the fire and contributing factors by Dame Judith Hackitt, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has committed to the creation of a new regulatory body to implement the lessons learned.
The new Building Safety Regulator will act as an overarching regulatory body, overseeing the design and management and fire safety rating of particularly at-risk buildings in the UK, such as high-rise buildings.
What is the Building Safety Regulator?
Established as part of the Health and Safety Executive, the role of the Building Safety Regulator will be to oversee the safe design, construction and occupation of high-risk buildings so that residents are safe and feel safe. The regulator will be independent and provide expert advice to the industry as well as residents.
In the draft bill submitted to Parliament, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Minister Robert Jenrick said: This Government is prioritising the urgent reform of the regulatory system for buildings. The extensive reforms brought forward in this large and complex Bill represent the most significant and fundamental changes to building safety legislation in decades.
‘The new Building Safety Regulator will work closely with the industry to drive a change in culture that prioritises residents and ensures their safety.’
The Building Safety Regulator will particularly focus on buildings over 18m high – such as high rises similar to Grenfell – and aim to ensure that they are safely designed, constructed and that this focus on safety continues once occupied, to ensure resident and occupier comfort. The responsibility to ensure this within projects falls on the client, principal designer, and principal contractor, as laid out in the Construction (Design and Management) (CDM) regulations. Building safety managers will also be required to adhere to guidelines once the building is complete and actively occupied.
The regulator is currently operating in a ‘shadow’ capacity and is expected to become fully operational in 2021. However, those with responsibilities under CDM should make an effort to learn more about the changes and ensure they are fully compliant beforehand.
Why is a Building Safety Regulator needed?
The implementation of the new Building Safety Regulator role forms part of a greater programme of changes to Britain’s safety regulations, mainly for multi-occupancy residential buildings above 18 metres or six storeys.
Calls for this new regulator, as well as the wider bill, were driven largely by the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, in which 92 people lost their lives, as well as the investigation and report by Dame Judith Hackitt. The report found that: ‘the current system of building regulations and fire safety is not fit for purpose and that a culture change is required to support the delivery of buildings that are safe, both now and in the future.’
To ensure the safety of the occupants of these types of buildings and overcome the issues prevalent in Britain’s building safety culture, a sweeping change was needed. This has now arrived in the form of the Building Safety Regulator and the Building Safety Bill.
In October 2019, it was announced that Dame Hackitt herself would advise the Government on the most effective way to implement the new regulator.
What will the role of the Building Regulator be?
One of the main aims of these changes, and particularly the regulator itself, will be to ensure that the occupants of these buildings feel safe and secure. Not only will those with responsibilities under CDM have to adhere to the new regulations, but building managers themselves will have ongoing duties to assure the comfort and safety of residents.
According to the HSE, the main responsibilities of the Building Safety Regulator will be:
- To create and implement a new, more stringent, regulatory regime for residential buildings deemed to be at risk.
- To promote competence among industry professionals, in a bid to raise standards in design, construction, and building management across the board.
- To oversee building performance systems, allowing a single source of regulation and guidance on building performance and safety, and taking into account other factors such as climate change in regulatory decisions.
It is also expected to establish the following committees under its review:
- A Building Advisory Committee, to replace the Building Regulations Advisory Committee for England
- A Committee on Industry Competence, to develop proposals for a system on competence oversight in partnership with the sector
- A Residents’ Panel, to provide an opportunity for residents to contribute to key policy changes which might affect them
The HSE says it will work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, the Home Office, local regulators, building control bodies, building owners, housing providers, the construction industry, the Local Government Association, Local Authority Building Control, and the National Fire Chiefs Council, to ensure comprehensive regulation.
Though it will have the power to apply criminal sanctions to those flouting the new regulation, the regulator will also exist to offer expert advice to local regulators, landlords and building owners, as well as those in the construction and building design industry.
What does it mean for you?
If you are a resident of a multi-occupancy building of more than 18 metres, with the new Building Safety Regulator, you will theoretically have greater protections and a larger say in the management of your building.
If you have responsibilities under CDM regulations for multi-occupancy buildings, such as if you are a client, designer, contractor, or building manager, you will likely be affected by this new regulator in some capacity.
Though there will be a reduction in the powers and oversight of local authority building control, these will be superseded by the new regulator. According to the draft safety bill, the new regulator will have the power to issue sanctions of up to two years in prison, as well as unlimited fines for breaches of building regulations.
You will also have to adhere to a new competence framework for designing, building, and inspecting residential buildings of more than 18 metres, ensuring they are continuously safe to occupy.
Notably, if you are a designer, you will no longer be allowed to appoint your own building control body. Instead, the regulator will appoint a registered building inspector, a new role supported by building control authorities and approvers. The bill will also prevent public bodies from carrying out their own building control functions.
If you are involved as a designer, contractor, or manager of another type of building that does not fit this description, you should still be aware of the powers and reach of the new regulator. The bill includes a provision to extend the powers of the new regulator to other building types on the advice of the secretary of state in future.
You should remember that if you are currently striving to meet your responsibilities under CDM and current building regs, you will likely not run into any trouble with the arrival of the new contractor. The HSE has repeatedly stated the new regulator will not just exist to mete out punishment, but to offer expert advice and support, improving building safety culture across the board and – hopefully – preventing another disaster like Grenfell from happening.
At Veritas Consulting, we have in-depth building design and safety experience geared towards designers, contractors, and building specialists. For more information on the new Building Safety Regulator role, the safety bill, or anything else, call us on 0800 1488 677 or use the contact form above.