The Building Safety Bill, and what we know so far
October 21, 2021
ICYMI at the Kent Construction Expo
Currently working with industry groups, the Government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to develop the new Building Safety Bill, Kevin Blunden – our Technical & Compliance Director – recently delivered a speaker session at the Kent Construction Expo, which provided crucial insight into the new regime.
In case you missed it, here we provide an overview of Kevin’s talk, covering what is known about the Bill so far, and how these changes will impact those who design, construct and manage buildings.
What has led to the Building Safety Bill?
The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower represented the greatest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety – a report commissioned by the government after the Grenfell Tower fire – concluded that the concerns of residents were too often ignored, that regulation covering high-rise residential buildings was weak and that there was a lack of accountability and a culture in industry that did not prioritise safety.
The conclusion was that a fundamental reform of the building safety system was needed, covering both regulatory reform and industry change.
What is the Building Safety Bill?
The Building Safety Bill is the Government’s main response to the recommendations coming out of The Hackitt Report, the primary objective being to implement the Government’s ambition for long-lasting reform of the building safety system. The Bill will overhaul regulations, changing the ways in which buildings should be designed, constructed, managed and maintained to ensure they are safe to use.
The Bill primarily addresses the risk on high-rise residential buildings (HRRBs), but also captures issues surrounding high-rise hospitals and care homes, and will impact all developments. This changing regime for high-rise buildings has a knock-on effect on all aspects of construction and focuses on two main streams:
- The design and construction phase
- The post-construction phase: management of the building throughout its lifecycle, to ensure it remains safe
Changes in Responsibility.
Contrary to current legislation, which states that the building safety responsibility lies with whomever is carrying out the work – which could be anyone from the constructor to the building owner – the Bill focuses on defining responsibilities. The Bill more closely pivots around design, construction and management with regulation ensuring projects are safe at each stage before proceeding. The ‘dutyholder’ responsibility will be more clearly defined than in current legislation, but there is still much detail to await.
The Building Safety Bill outlines that the first step to addressing the ongoing safety of a building is to identify who the dutyholders are. The intention is that regulations will place duties on those who procure, plan, manage and undertake the works. This put a different responsibility on designers and developers, as well as the property management scheme.
Under the new Bill, dutyholders could be:
- The client
- Principal Designer
- Principal Contractor
This will potentially cause a shift in peoples’ job titles and responsibilities. There is a government factsheet about dutyholders available here.
The suggested changes are divided into an initial phase, setting out responsibilities, and a second phase, assigning a level of competence to people involved in carrying out these responsibilities.
Defining and assigning competency.
Whilst Approved Inspectors will continue to follow a competence regime, and each practicing individual will be required to join a national register which will detail which types of buildings each individual is competent to work on, other individuals involved in the process will also have to be assessed in order to determine the level of responsibility they are able to carry.
Designers, contractors and people managing the buildings will all be expected to have a set level of competence too. Competence will be considered in terms of:
- and behaviours
Regarding behaviours, ethics may be a more suitable term. Behaviours encompasses having a proven track record of compliance with relevant requirements, including refusing to carry out any building work which is not considered ethical; where cooperation with other persons in relation to the work isn’t possible; refusing to carry out work which is beyond their skills, knowledge or experience, and asking for the assistance of other persons where necessary. Having a professional qualification and a CPD record won’t be enough to demonstrate competence under the new regime.
Changes in Regulatory Bodies.
From a building control perspective, the new regulator – the HSE – will take on responsibilities for building control for all high-rise buildings, deciding whom they need to give them expertise. The fallback in the current Bill draft is the Local Authority, but there is speculation that the HSE may also procure services from Approved Inspectors, given the needed level of expertise to fulfil high-rise projects. As such, the new Bill will change the person who is ‘issuing the certificates’ on each job, with this duty falling to the regulator.
There are ongoing discussions suggesting that when the regulator reviews building projects, a multidisciplinary team will be assigned to each project. This team will primarily consist of the fire service, building control and environmental health. Each of these bodies currently have their own legislation in terms of what powers they hold, but what remains unknown is the approach that will be taken in the event of an issue arising. Will one of these bodies be empowered to take the lead in terms of action, or will all three take independent legal action simultaneously?
Changes in Insurance Requirements.
The Government and the HSE have not yet advised if insurance requirements will be affected by the new legislation. The new term for qualified individuals will be ‘Registered Building Inspector,’ and there is suggestion that if an individual is working for an approved building inspector, they will be covered by the business’ insurance policies, eliminating the need to seek personal insurance. In an already difficult market, there is concern that insurance cover may be difficult to obtain for these new roles.
Changes in the Approval Processes.
On commercial properties, there will be a requirement to get plans approved before starting work on site. This is the current arrangement in Scotland, but in England and Wales it has always been possible to begin working on site once an application is submitted. The current legislation even allows for building on site to continue, even if the plan is rejected.
This requirement for approval prior to the commencement of work may change the process for all design and build companies, as much of the detailed design is often refined after building work begins.
Whilst the change in process may delay building works in some areas, it could have a positive impact on many projects as it encourages the early engagement of building control inspectors by design and build companies. In The Hackitt Report, the Government highlighted a ‘golden thread of information,’ identifying certain key points of a construction project that will require involvement from building control. Building control bodies will now be involved earlier, if possible, and key construction milestones cannot be progressed without the input of building control.
The Devil is always in the Detail.
Whilst the Bill is the overall framework, regulations made under the Bill which will include significant detail of all new processes, are yet to be published. This makes it difficult to understand the full impact the Bill will have on the construction sector. It is clear the HSE will be the regulator, but much supplementary information still needs to be fed to the HSE to detail the new processes under the Bill.
The Transition Phase.
The Government is working to a target date of April 2023 for the Building Safety Bill to be in place. Many current projects are going to be faced with a currently undefined transition arrangement. There’s potential that before these projects begin, the regime is going to change and it is currently unclear how these ongoing projects will be transferred to the new regulator.
What is anticipated is that any issues will be monitored more closely, with a more effective enforcement regime and the HSE are expected to bring more cases through the courts.
Changes to the Building Control Profession.
The Building Safety Bill is one of the biggest changes since building regulations were introduced and it will have a major impact on the existing design, construction and management process. Whilst contractors adjust to these new regulations, there is work being done to decide what will determine the different competency levels of inspectors. There is concern, particularly around building control, regarding current capacity and whether there are enough people in the industry to carry out work on new building projects. With a limited number of people joining the profession, there is a worry that the new registration and competency requirements could reduce the number of qualified individuals further.
Around 70% of high-rise buildings are currently dealt with by Approved Inspectors, with approximately 40% of these being NHBC, and 30% being Local Authority. At the moment, the industry capacity is relatively evenly split between NHBC, Local Authority and Approved Inspectors. However, there is growing concern that if too many Approved Inspectors determine the new regulation measures too arduous, the capacity in the industry will be reduced. Local Authorities have announced they have the capacity to serve the industry, but there is potential for regional variation.
It’s clear that questions remain around competency, capacity and much more, in relation to the Building Safety Bill. Harwood will continue to provide updates as more is understood, so watch this space. If you’d like to speak to one of our team about how the changes will impact you and the way you work, please get in touch on 01227 931 777 or email email@example.com.
If you are looking to mitigate risks in terms of delays or unexpected costs, the experience of Harwood Approved Inspectors ensures buildings are safe for their users by identifying non-compliant features and working with design teams and contractors so they can create real-world solutions to construction challenges. With its Head Office in Kent, Harwood provides Approved Inspector building control services for commercial construction projects across England and Wales. Our highly professional yet approachable approach and pragmatic attitude ensures the details that matter are taken care of.