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Compliance, conscience and collaboration in a new building safety regime

Published December 2023

A new building safety regime, introduced in response to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in 2017, is now actively in force in England. Its key objective is to put residents’ safety first through a systematic approach to design, build and maintenance of all higher risk residential buildings, indeed all buildings.

Those working in the building sector in England need to move at pace in understanding the new regime and its requirements. For no matter where you sit in the buy-supply-occupy-maintain chain of residential development, the legislation is detailed and complex. And with two-thirds of the supporting regulations in place there is more still to come.

The Act is perhaps even more relevant now given Labour’s recent pledge to “get Britain building again”, with the creation of new homes ranking high in their political policies should the next General Election go their way.

For many, meeting the new requirements should not be burdensome, particularly where a strong safety culture already exists within their business.

Indeed, those with a good understanding of the wider building regulations and health and safety obligations will already have in place key underlying procedures to aid compliance with the new regime.

For others, compliance will create immediate challenges. A failure to comply could lead to significant consequences, including criminal offences resulting in imprisonment.

Therefore, a solid understanding of the regime is critical. This includes a clear picture of roles and responsibilities, timeframes, procedures around approvals to proceed, and subsequently, approval to occupy. All must be strictly adhered to, to avoid sanction.

Changing perceptions

The reforms provide an opportunity to lead, share and collaborate. And not just by ensuring that industry conforms to the regime by ‘the letter’, but by creating an opportunity for reinforcing the importance and value of a strong culture of safety across business and within industry. To what extent, for example, should compliance come before conscience?

The measures required to reach this point are broad and complex. They include enhanced training and improved awareness of topics such as building design obligations, checks and balances throughout construction, standards in product development, clarity around professional accountability, and attitudes towards speaking out where safety might be compromised.

England’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the new Building Safety Regulator, talks of the importance of a building’s “single source of truth” along with other measures recently set out in their Strategic Plan. Central to the regime is storing information related to the building’s creation, to aid its management and maintenance. The ‘Golden Thread’ regulation and guidance introduced in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s strong recommendations “to ensure that the golden thread of information persists throughout the building life cycle”.

Collaborative opportunities

Collaboration across the industry has been advocated since the days of Latham and Egan. But here the regime creates two distinct opportunities for collaboration and putting people and safety first.

First, capturing and maintaining building information in an accessible format – per the Golden Thread – immediately amplifies the footprint of a project, making any safety issues more visible to key people and in a timely fashion. An approach which creates a huge opportunity for the industry to build on its amazing work in the tech arena. Developing a holistic digital solution, to be adopted industry wide – preserving key data, usable by all – could be driven by a collective effort for safeguarding people and property.

For the longer-term then, ongoing investment in these digital solutions and sharing of knowledge is vital, presenting room for growth and diversification for tech giants and digital specialists.

Second, for other titans of industry, there is no greater opportunity for insurers than a regime crying out for affordable and accessible project and latent defects insurance. A safety net of itself but which must not be to the detriment of safety cultures and behaviours.

Collective action

Arguably, through a united effort and a systematic approach, cultures and attitudes toward ‘safety-first’ will become a more intrinsic, truly embedded ‘norm’ in industry; making superfluous the need for a legal stick.