The Building Safety Act: a golden opportunity for construction

Gareth Lewis is chief executive of Mace Construct

In April, we saw the most significant piece of legislation affecting the UK construction industry in a generation become law – the Building Safety Act.

While the 262-page act represents a challenge to an industry that can sometimes be slow to evolve, we must see this as an opportunity. The act could be the catalyst for industry transformation and 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 to show we are ready to implement it.

Time to prepare

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

Businesses that adapt sooner and show a willingness 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.

While 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 will not be affected 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 will also be responsible for their safety. 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 process will be overseen by the new Building Safety Regulator, and failure by a duty holder to comply could not only hold up a development but ultimately result in a criminal prosecution. While 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 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 people working in the built environment are competent to do so. The Hackitt Review identified this as a concern, noting that the current framework for assuring competency is both complex and fragmented. The act, therefore, creates a new competency committee, which 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 those working for them have the necessary competencies to do the job they are doing”

Everyone in the supply chain – from clients down to the lowest tier sub-contractor – will need to ensure 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 kickstart 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, which is created, stored and updated throughout a building’s lifecycle.

Each duty holder will need to make sure 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 have to be kept digitally, so that it is more accessible and easily updated.

Although the government will not mandate the use of specific software, it is likely that this requirement will lead to the widespread digitalisation of construction data and adoption of building information modelling (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 have started investing in 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.

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