The introduction of checks and a need for regulator approval at different points of construction projects is among major changes set to be introduced to how building safety is managed
The creation of the UK’s new Building Safety Regulator (BSR) will see the introduction of checks at major stages of a building’s design and construction in a bid to overhaul existing safety controls. These checks will need to be performed and then approved before work can continue on a project.
Andrew Moore from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the regulatory body has been established as part of the new Building Safety Bill currently being reviewed in parliament. It will become the overseer of the entire building control profession with implications for competency and standards enforcement.
Mr Moore’s comments were made during the 2021 BESA National Conference as part of a discussion on changes facing the building engineering sector as part of an ongoing response to an independent review of building safety overseen by Dame Judith Hackitt.
He said, “Although we are not the building control body for non-high rise buildings, we will be overseeing the profession to ensure there is a level of consistency in line with work across all buildings.”
The scope of this work would not be possible for the BSR to manage on its own, according to Mr Moore. He said that the new body would therefore work in collaboration with a range of other organisations to enforce good practice and regulation.
A so-called multidisciplinary team, involving organisations such as local authority building control teams, the fire service and private sector building control bodies, will work together to ensure a more holistic approach to safety standards.
A specific aim for the new regime overseen by the BSR will be the introduction of a number of checks or ‘gateways’ during the design and build phases of a project.
Mr Moore said, “These are essentially no go points so that a duty holder cannot go from the planning to the design stage of a building without the approval of the regulator.”
“So there is a much more hands on role for the regulator in this respect. And thinking about the design stage, there will be much more focus on design than there has been in the past. It may take longer from the design point of view, but actually it is going to be part of the assessment process.”
This assessment process would not just focus on compliance with building regulations, but also factor in how will a finished building meet its original design intent, according to the HSE.
Introducing safety cases
Another new focus for building safety that the regulator will oversee will be the introduction of a safety case concept. Mr Moore said that this was a tool more commonly associated with the nuclear or high hazard chemical sectors than buildings.
He said, “Ultimately, it is something – at its core principles – that should be relatively straight forward. It’s looking at the potential for harm, the risk of that harm and then setting measures that will be in place to reduce this risk.”
The safety case would specifically focus on the evidence of what building operators or other duty holders on a project are doing on a project to mitigate risks.
Mr Moore added that everyone working across the construction sector would be required under the BSR to provide a much more robust evidence base to prove that they are complying with regulations in a way that has not been the case previously in the UK.
Competency requirements would also be a focus of the regulator’s work, especially in regards to current and future Building Regulations with an initial focus on structural and fire safety issues.
From the perspective of the HVAC sector, Mr Moore said he didn’t expect a major impact on the existing role of installers working in the industry.
However, the scale of the changes set to be introduced by the BSR would require new thinking on issues such as design and an overall awareness of how work impacted fire and structural safety.
Mr Moore said, “Potentially, the role of HVAC specialists could change if they are a designer, principal designer or a contractor. So I think they will need to be aware of the new requirements on those particular duty holders.”
“What I would say is, everyone will need to have awareness. I think awareness depends on the work they are undertaking, where they are undertaking it and how intrusive that is. But awareness of fire safety and structural safety is a minimum.”
All specialists and engineers working on buildings should therefore be expected to have this awareness of the environment they are working in, much in the same way that asbestos awareness training is currently required a focus of health and safety work, added Mr Moore.
The HSE’s ambitions for developing the new Building Safety Regulator and regime were expected to be matched by a “significant” recruitment drive and skills assessment that will take place over the next 18 months.
This process aims to ensure that the regulator has sufficient staff and skills to oversee the new requirements in terms of checks and approvals, as well as other enforcement matters, according to Mr Moore.
He said, “I think it’s fair to say that we couldn’t just take staff from the existing HSE and put them into a building safety regulator, so our business plan is to actually recruit a significant number of new staff to meet demand.”