The Building Safety Bill, which aims to improve building safety regulations in the wake of the Grenfell fire tragedy of 14 June 2017, has gone through something of a shake-up in its latter stages. Most significantly, the government has scrapped the legal requirement for building owners to appoint a building safety manager (BSM) – a role first recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt in her ‘Building Regulations and Fire Safety’ report.
The Bill, expected to get Royal Assent in April/May this year, originally required landlords of higher blocks – that is, with seven or more storeys, or 18 metres or higher – to appoint a BSM to ensure the accountable person was supported in the delivery of their statutory duties. So, why has the BSM role been removed? Primarily, it seems, because this administrative post would have cost around £60,000 per year, according to public impact assessments.
And while landlords would have paid much of this, they would also have been allowed to recover some of the cost of hiring the managers through a new charge on flat owners. They argued that their buildings already had managing agents in place who could fulfil the role. However, one observation passed on to Operations Engineer was that the £60,000 cost of a single BSM was considered at a time where they “might have managed anywhere between 7-11 high-rise buildings, so the £60,000 would have been shared across several buildings and thus its impact greatly reduced for leaseholders, something that hasn’t really been sufficiently emphasised.”
As the revised Building Safety Bill stands, the AP [Accountable Person] will have a duty to take all reasonable steps to “prevent a building safety risk happening,” says the HSE, “with building safety risk defined as spread of fire and/or structural failure”, and to “reduce the seriousness of an incident, if one happens”. A key responsibility will be to prepare a safety case report for the building that shows all safety risks have been assessed and all reasonable steps have been taken to control them.
Sofie Hooper, head of policy, Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, says: “Currently, the Building Safety Bill has been stripped of any competence requirement for managing building safety for the occupation phase. The accountable person will often not be a professional person, so they still need support to deliver on their Part 4 duties in full. We hope that competence requirements will be inserted in secondary legislation relating to such support, as otherwise it will be business as usual in the occupation phase. Organisations will be expected to have the resources and have access to appropriate competent advice so that the APs can fulfil their duties. It is anticipated PAS 8673 will reflect this.”
Meanwhile, the government has asked HSE to establish a new building safety regulator (BSR) in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. As the building control authority, the BSR will regulate high-rise buildings, overseeing the safety and performance of such buildings. This includes helping and encouraging the built environment industry and building control professionals to improve their competence, as well as leading the implementation of the new regulatory framework for such buildings.
When it comes to how high-rise buildings within scope will be monitored on a day-to-day basis, key information will have to be identified, stored and updated throughout the building’s lifecycle, with mandatory reporting of prescribed fire and structural safety occurrences. Much of this would have been delivered by the BSM. With that appointment requirement now falling away, the AP’s duty will remain in place. There will also be registers of building inspectors and building control approvers.
Managing the inspection and reporting tasks associated with any high-rise building is a complex and multi-layered task that the Accountable Person/managing agent will need to take on. To support this process, there are a number of B2B software-as-a-service platforms available. One such solution is PlanRadar.
How would this help APs to deliver to the level of competency demanded of them? “A platform would be established that meets the specific requirements of the building being managed,” says Robert Norton, PlanRadar’s senior solutions consultant. “The owners of the business can set up recurring tasks and inspections for the Accountable Person to ensure proper management and the appropriate inspections are taking place on a regular basis. Because PlanRadar is a real-time system, the relevant channels will instantly have live access to the correct information within seconds of the data capture. If inspections weren’t carried out, for example, PlanRadar would flag this to the applicable parties.”
Fire Consultancy Specialists is one company that uses PlanRadar to update facility managers and owners with the latest information to enable their clients’ project teams to complete tasks on schedule and generate reports directly, so all information is received in one application, with a complete overview of the building involved. “Once the Building Safety Bill comes into force, certain buildings in England will have to produce a safety case report,” points out Jon Holt, the company’s director of operations.
The safety case is defined by the HSE as all the information used to manage the risk of fire spread and the structural safety of a building. “In the proposed new safety case regime,” states HSE, “some of this information will be used as evidence to demonstrate [or justify] how you are preventing major accidents in your building and limiting their consequences.”
As Holt advises: “If you are an owner of a building – or the Accountable Person – it is best to do the necessary preparations not only to be in compliance, but, most importantly, to safeguard the well-being of your building’s users against fire and structural failure.”
LEVELS OF COMPETENCY
As far as the BSM role being removed from the new legislation is concerned, he has this to say. “Introducing a BSM was seen as a step forward and something we wanted to develop within our own company as a link between the owners of a building and the occupants where a certain permissory level of competency to manage a high-rise building has been established.”
As the Bill now stands, the problem is that only the accountability requirement remains, with the competence requirement no longer present. Yet the duties still need to be delivered.
Adds PlanRadar’s Robert Norton: “We did have elements of the BSM role already built into our platform, but now, working with Jon [Holt], we will streamline the process and make sure that whoever takes on the AP role can capture on site all the information that’s needed to fulfil the safety case relating to the building(s) for which they are responsible.”