The most important document in a generation

bimstore co-founder Rob Charlton talks about how a new document seems to have gone under the radar.

There is nothing we like more in construction than a report. One of the most significant documents of the last two decades was published in June and it seems to have passed us all by. However, this report is far more reaching than the 2011 BIM mandate and is easily as impactful as the 1994 CDM regulations.

Any idea what the report is?

Well, last month, the ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published the Building a Safer Future consultation paper, which set out government plans to implement the reform of building regulatory safety system in advance of new legislation following the Hackitt report.

The consultation period ends on 31st July; just 3 weeks away!

Following the consultation, the paper will follow the legislative process to form a bill and could be law as soon as 2020 and most of us aren’t even aware of the current discussion taking place!

The paper is a response to the suggestions made by Judith Hackitt and turns her proposals into an enforceable structure. When thinking turns from an idea and into legislation, the issues come into far greater focus.

So, what does it mean to those of us working in the design, construction and operation of buildings? Significantly, the residents, landlords and building owners?

Firstly, the paper focuses on multi-occupied residential buildings over 18m (as expected following the Grenfell disaster). The consultation suggests additional buildings are likely to fall within the scope, such as buildings for vulnerable people, and will include both existing and new buildings.

The paper identifies duty-holders who align with the existing CDM regulations, with an additional duty-holder for the operational stage of a building to ensure that there is accountability for the entire lifespan of a building and not only the design and construction.

An accountable person is also identified by their occupation, such as the CEO of a housing association. The accountable person will then appoint an appropriately qualified Building Safety Manager.

The legal responsibility will encourage this accountable person to ensure buildings are constructed as designed, and to an appropriate quality standard, handing back much of the risk to the client which in an attempt to challenge the culture of “lowest price wins”. Constructors will need to require trusted supply chain partners to ensure quality.

Key gateways are planned through the project process where a safety case will be proposed and agreed.

A new Building Safety Regulator will be implemented to be responsible for the policing of the standards and for issuing building safety certificates.

The Hackitt report referred to a Golden Thread of information through the building life-cycle with specific reference to Building Information Modelling. The consultation paper sets out in more detail what might be included and how it should be accessed and maintained.

There have been many early adopters of BIM in the past 10-15 years who have been passionate about the potential of digital construction. For a long time, this has been more of a push than a pull and for a long time, no one was listening. However, this consultation vindicates the vision and investment; unfortunately, it took a disaster to bring it into focus.

The Golden Thread of building information must be maintained through the buildings lifecycle and held digitally. It must include digital design intent to ensure performance strategies are maintained in operation. For example, fire strategy information must be accessible to ensure further maintenance takes this into account.

Alongside the Golden Thread information, it is proposed there will be a data set which must be issued regularly, which could be held on a central database. This will likely be updated regularly and will include key building information such as maintenance and survey information.

The bill will undoubtedly mean a tougher building safety regularity framework meaning greater accountability across the entire supply chain from clients through to product manufacturers.

The consultation also references tenants of these buildings, proposing that they have greater visibility of the process and access to building information from design through to operation.

There were 334 fatalities due to fire in buildings in 2017.

These proposals are far reaching, and their impact is not to be underestimated. The costs of construction and maintenance will undoubtedly increase but legislation and investment are the only ways to address the issues which have been apparent in the sector for decades.

There were 334 fatalities due to fire in buildings in 2017. Fortunately, this is a falling trend, but it is the highest since 2011 due to Grenfell.

Fatalities during the construction phase of a project have fallen significantly over recent years. There were 1.31 casualties per 100,000 workers in 2018/19, compared to 9.2 in Agriculture and Fishing and 6.05 in Waste and Recycling. This improvement aligns with the implementation of the CDM legislation in 1994; proving change is possible.

Regulation not only improves safety and performance, but it drives innovation! Take the car industry for example; in 1980 there were 6000 road fatalities but by 2017 this had been reduced to 1800.

Would the car industry have developed inertia seat belts or airbags had the industry not have such stringent safety regulations? We will never know; however, we know we are safe when driving a car and there are far fewer fatalities on the road than there were 20 years ago.

The new Construction legislation will put all businesses on an equal playing field focusing not only on cost, but also safety, and this will discourage the cutting of corners to improve margin whilst encouraging innovation to achieve the legislation efficiently.

The consultation paper is encouraging and includes lots of innovative thinking. It’s a great place to start and hopefully it will extend to all buildings in the years ahead. I look forward to more investment in the sector to allow us to innovate so buildings are safe through construction and operation.

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