The Draft Building Safety Bill

The Compliance People Consultant Dave Almond looks at the draft Building Safety Bill

The draft Building Safety Bill will make fundamental changes to fire and structural safety in high rise buildings over 18m or six stories in height. It will be of significant interest to those involved in property design, construction and management, affecting the entire life cycle of buildings when it comes into law.

What is the background to the draft Bill?

In 2017, the Grenfell Tower tragedy/fire resulted in the loss of 72 lives; the biggest loss of life in a residential fire since WW2.

The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety conducted by Dame Judith Hackitt and the subsequent report, Building a Safer Future, found that the system for ensuring fire and structural safety in high rise buildings was not fit for purpose.

It made significant recommendations for change, all of which were accepted by the Government, and in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019 it was announced that the Government intended to introduce “new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products, and ensure residents have a stronger voice in the system.” The Government published the Draft Building Safety Bill in late July 2020.

What changes are in the draft Bill?

The draft Bill proposes a new Building Safety Regulator to:

  • oversee the new safety regime for higher risk buildings;
  • drive building safety improvements and performance standards for all buildings;
  • provide a stronger voice for residents in the system;
  • drive improvements in competence and capability of those working in the sector; and
  • provide a stronger and clearer framework for national oversight of construction products.

It moves the focus to those who create risk, being responsible for managing it.

Building Safety Regulator

A new regulator, the Building Safety Regulator will be formed within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to implement the new, more stringent regulatory regime for higher risk buildings. While the Regulator will have a remit for higher risk buildings over 18m or six stories in height, they will also oversee the safety and performance of all buildings. They will also assist and encourage competence among the built environment industry, and registered building inspectors.

The Building Safety Regulator will have new powers under the draft Bill. These include:

  • the issuing of stop notices where construction projects are breaking building regulations;
  • the issuing of compliance notices to Accountable Persons to rectify issues by a deadline or face unlimited fines or up to 2 years in prison;
  • the prosecution of directors; and
  • the removal of building inspectors from the register and power to prosecute them.

Prison sentences for contravention of building regulations will be increased to up to 10 years.

The Regulator will oversee registered building inspectors, whether they be local authority building control officers or private sector operators. There will also be a new mandatory system for reporting structural and fire safety breaches.

The Building Safety Regulator will undertake several regulatory functions that will apply to all buildings, working with building control authorities, technical experts and the construction industry. They will also set up an industry-led committee to advise on industry competence, lead on a competency framework, and drive improvements in competency levels.

The Building Safety Regulator will be responsible for oversight of the competence and performance of registered building inspectors and the building control bodies.

Building life cycle and “the golden thread”

A new Gateway regime will be introduced to ensure safety risks are considered at each stage of a building’s design and construction. The Regulator will have to be consulted by law at the planning permission stage (Gateway one). At Gateway two, the Regulator can issue a ‘hard stop’ meaning construction work cannot start until they are satisfied all safety requirements have been met.

Gateway three occurs at the end of the construction phase when the Regulator will assess whether building regulations have been met. At this stage, all necessary documents and information are to be handed over to the Accountable Person. This information will be known as ‘the golden thread’ and will provide a digital record of information for the entire life cycle of the building, including design, construction, change and upgrades over time.

The Accountable Person

A new role of the Accountable Person for a high rise building is to be created. They will be the duty holder when a building is occupied, and they will have an ongoing duty to assess building safety risks. They will be required to take all reasonable steps to prevent a major incident in the building as a result of these risks.

Prior to occupation the building will have to be registered with the Regulator. The Accountable Person will have to obtain a Building Assurance Certificate confirming the building is fit for occupation. This will require the preparation and submission of a ‘Safety Case Report’ to the Regulator which demonstrates how building safety risks are being identified, mitigated and managed on an ongoing basis. The Regulator will only issue a Building Assurance Certificate if satisfied the Accountable Person is complying with all their duties.

The Accountable Person will have to display the Building Assurance Certificate prominently in the building. They will also be required to appoint a competent Building Safety Manager to support them in managing day-to-day fire and structural safety risks in the building. The Regulator will have the power to veto this appointment, which has to be formally notified to them.

There will also be duties placed on the Accountable Person to develop a residents’ engagement strategy to promote the involvement of residents and owners of flats in the building, in the making of building safety decisions to create a strong partnership with residents.

Importantly, the legislation will apply to existing buildings. Buildings which are already occupied will need to be registered. Unoccupied buildings will have to be registered before occupation.

Construction products

Finally, the Bill sets out a new regulatory regime for construction products, strengthening controls on construction products marketed in the UK. Regulations will be created for designated products (products which perform to a designated standard), to create a list of safety critical products (where the failure of such products would result in death or serious injury), and for all construction products on the market not otherwise designated, which will be subject to a United Kingdom Technical Assessment, or on the list of safety critical products are subject to a general safety requirement.

Further fire safety changes ahead?

It looks like there will be further changes affecting these sectors in the not too distant future as the Government is currently consulting on further fire safety reforms (until 12 October 2020) See: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fire-safety

Look out for future updates from The Compliance People as these changes progress, and what this means for you and your business.