The Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June 2017, which claimed 72 lives – the greatest loss of life in a residential fire in a century – has frequently been referred to as ‘a tragedy waiting to happen’. The blaze that broke out in the 24-storey block of flats in North Kensington, West London, highlighted a need for major changes and improvements to be made to the building safety system in force, something that was at the heart of the independent review carried out by Dame Judith Hackitt (www.is.gd/zeyadi).
In the wake of the inquiry, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government put forward a set of policy proposals aimed at improving the fire and structural safety of high-rise residential buildings. What is now mooted is a new building safety regime that will govern how multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height are lived in.
One of the pillars of that regime is a ‘safety case’ evidencing how the building is being kept safe and who is accountable and/or responsible, within a tougher regulatory framework. This moves away from what has formerly been ‘dutyholder choice’ in building control by collating and making available a ‘golden thread’ of core building safety information throughout the lifecycle of a building.
Key to the new proposals would be the appointment of a building safety manager (BSM) with the right skills, knowledge and expertise to look after the building, dealing with safety issues encountered or which are reported by residents in the block(s) for which they are responsible. This new statutory role – the first within the facilities management remit – will mean responsibility (but not accountability) for the day-to-day management of the building and for resident engagement.
NEW ERA OF REGULATION
Sofie Hooper, head of policy at the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM), welcomes the BSM move as part of what she argues must be a new era of building regulation, based on Hackitt’s holistic ‘whole building’ safety approach, rather than just fire and structural safety, which is what the government has been proposing. “A whole building approach will also put residents’ safety at the heart of any new regulation and give them a stronger voice, so their concerns are never ignored,” she states. “This is absolutely crucial – and a critical part of that role will be the appointment of a competent and registered BSM.”
The BSM would support and report to an AP (accountable person) legally responsible for ensuring that building safety risks to occupants are reduced “so far as is reasonably practical”, according to the government. The criticality of the BSM, says Hooper, is that “while the AP will need to make decisions, it is unlikely they will have the competency to deliver building safety as such, which will probably be carried out by the BSMs themselves”. It is the BSM who will be tasked with ensuring that the building is safely managed with regard to fire and structural risks, while also, adds Hooper, “promoting the openness, trust and collaboration with residents that is fundamental to keeping buildings safe”.
The role will call for someone quite senior, as they will be accountable for meeting the obligations written into the Building Safety Certificate and ensuring resident engagement is delivered. “Most importantly, they must have the necessary team and funding to perform the role, with the onus for this being on the AP,” she adds. Hooper also points to certain challenges for the BSM to discharge their role properly. “They must have reasonable and proportionate access to occupiers’ premises. You can arrange building safety all you want, but you still need to know where the risks are within residents’ units, along with having the most up-to-date building information.”
Another vital aspect of the so-called ‘golden thread’ is that all building information is constantly updated. “The BSM appointed must have the necessary skills to manage that information, whether that’s via BIM [Building Information Modelling] or other digital skills, to maintain the safety case for a building, so risks are proactively identified, and mitigating measures put in place and maintained,” she states. “There must be datasets for every building, with a key dataset held in a specific format, bringing openness and transparency, with information on new buildings collected through gateway points, which will feed directly into the safety case itself. For existing buildings, information will be collected during the building safety registration process, as will any further information, to grow and evidence the safety case.”
A STEP UP
Chris Jeffers, a director and head of facility management advisory at engineering and construction services company Mott MacDonald, also welcomes the new BSM role, which he describes as a step up from the traditional building manager, “which will require higher skill levels and competencies, engaging and collaborating with fire engineers, surveyors, health and safety consultants [and more]”.
Knowledge of Construction (Design & Management) Regulations will be essential. “They will need to be able to analyse, in detail, structures and services of a building in construction plans, which is a fundamental aspect of being able to deliver this role.” He also sees the BSM engaging in key areas beyond fire and structural safety. “They will need to have a clear understanding of how to manage issues such as asbestos and Legionella.”
Equally, the role is not for the faint-hearted. “The BSM must have the ability and confidence to challenge, where necessary, as well as a commitment to continuing professional development and life-long learning.” He expects that the regime now being put forward will, in time, be adopted by the wider community. “So, anyone putting themselves forward for the role will require the very transferable skills that are going to be needed.”
Martin Ryan, MD at MGR Fire and Facilities Consultants, raises one particular apprehension – limiting the number of buildings under the scope of a single BSM. “It’s possible that some of the larger facilities management organisations might well have a centralised BSM who would need to have all the requirements for competence across the range of different types of buildings. But that might then be cascaded down to those of us within the FM industry who run several buildings or sets of buildings,” he says. “This concerns me, as I believe that managing a large volume of buildings could water down the effectiveness of the BSM role and jeopardise building safety. The role calls for an on going, dynamic safety-risk assessment of a building, mitigating risks on site and assessing what is required to keep that building as safe as possible throughout its lifecycle. It’s a vital role whose credibility lies with ensuring empowerment of the BSM to deliver a safe building.”
Lesley McLeod, CEO for the Association for Project Safety, sees Grenfell as affecting everyone in construction, “but the single greatest change for building safety managers will be to oversee the need to skill up workers”, she argues. “The Construction Industry Council’s report, ‘Raising the Bar’, recommends a shared set of core competencies (www.is.gd/ecejap). Everyone supports higher standards, but the implications are huge, requiring closer cross-industry cooperation, and an attitude shift to skills and life-long learning – all against a backdrop where Britain’s construction sector has to redress years of underinvestment in its workforce.”
Whatever the final format of the new regulation of building services, the government is hoping it will have “a profound effect across the built environment, and in the upkeep and maintenance of buildings”. But that may still be some way off. While it was proposed a bill should be in place by the end of this year, that deadline is unlikely to be met, according to the IWFM’s Hooper. “There is still a great deal of work to be done before it is ready. Getting it right, though, so that every resident has a safe home, has to be the goal.”