The Building Safety Act is the golden opportunity for industry transformation

6 min read

This April, we saw the most significant piece of legislation affecting the UK construction industry in a generation become law—the Building Safety Act. Whilst the 262-page act represents a challenge to an industry that can sometimes be slow to evolve, we must see this as an opportunity. This Act can be the catalyst for industry transformation — to help create a safer, more productive, and digitally-driven industry.

Earlier this month, the UK reflected on the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Fire – a tragedy in which 72 people lost their lives. This Act is the government’s attempt at making sure something like this never happens again, and now it is our turn as an industry’s to show we are ready to implement it.

As the new law requires so much change and secondary legislation to work through, the government has given a 12–18-month window before new powers are introduced – this gives the industry time to prepare. It’s vital that use this time wisely.

Those businesses that adapt sooner, and show their willing to change how they work, will also position themselves best for the future of our industry. Dame Judith Hackitt, echoed this message recently in her report to the government, highlighting some examples of good practice from early adopters.

Whilst the specific focus of the Act is on higher-risk buildings it will have far-reaching consequences for the whole industry. There is no part of the industry that won’t be impacted by the new processes, culture, and expectations that this Act will bring.

With power comes responsibility

A key principle of the Act is that those who commission, design and construct buildings are responsible for the safety of those buildings. The duty holder model, based on CDM 2015, will create clearer lines of accountability, a greater culture of compliance and will help facilitate collaboration. This can only be a good thing.

The Act introduces ‘gateways’ at key stages of the design and construction process. Gateway two (before building work starts) and gateway three (when building work is completed) are so called ‘stop/go’ decision points, which must be passed by demonstrating compliance before a development can proceed.

This will be overseen by the new Building Safety Regulator and failure to comply for a duty holder could not only hold-up a development, but ultimately result in a criminal prosecution. Whilst this may sound daunting, those who do things correctly and prepare well need not be afraid. This should act as a differentiator in the market, rooting out the cowboys, and helping to create a level playing field. It will also act as a motivator to help drive good behaviour.

Raising the bar on competency

The Building Safety Act sets out new requirements for all those carrying out design or building work, to ensure those working in the built environment are competent to do so.

The Hackitt Review identified this as a concern and noted that the current framework for assuring competency is both complex and fragmented. The Act, therefore, creates a new competency committee that will sit under the Regulator. This new committee, currently in interim form, will oversee the competency of people working across the industry, not just on higher risk buildings with every trade having its own competency framework.

Everyone in the supply chain, from clients down to the lowest tier sub-contractor will need to ensure that those working for them have the necessary competencies to do the job they are doing. Ultimately, this will result in higher productivity and workmanship throughout the supply chain.

It will no longer be enough just to have a vocational qualification or a certain number of years of experience. It will now become necessary to prove competency.

Will this kick start the digital revolution we’ve all been waiting for?

Perhaps the most transformative part of the Building Safety Act is the requirement for there to be a ‘golden thread’ of building information to be created, stored and updated throughout a building’s life cycle.

Each duty holder will need to make sure that this information is accurate, accessible and up to date. This will make sure the right people have the right information at the right time.

Crucially, this information will be required to be kept digitally as this will mean it is more accessible and can be easily updated. Whilst the government will not be mandating the use of specific software, it is likely this requirement will lead to the widespread digitalisation of construction data and adoption of BIM. This can only be a good thing.

Leading the way

Will the changes coming out of the Building Safety Act be challenging? Of course. But the good news is that the foundations have already been laid. At Mace, we’ve started investing into digital solutions, internal training programmes, and the detailed risk review of every project we’ve undertaken over the last 15 years.

If we get this right as an industry it could lead to a significant change in the way we commission, design, and construct buildings. This is an incredible opportunity for the industry—now is the time to act.

This article was originally published in Construction News.

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