Freelance journalist

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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
April 25, 2022

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Building Safety Bill

Fire industry reacts to the abolition of building safety manager role

Last month, the government made the surprise announcement that it was scrapping the role of building safety manager, as part of a series of amendments to the Building Safety Bill. We hear from fire industry professionals to gauge the reaction of the sector to the move.

Michael Gove, Secretary of State

The decision to remove the role of building safety manager comes in response to complaints from leaseholder groups about the potential costs of employing a building safety manager, complaints which have found a sympathetic hearing from Secretary of State Michael Gove, who has taken up the cause of leaseholder costs since taking over the Department of Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in September 2021. Announcing the scrapping of the role, Mr Gove said:

“No leaseholder should pay the price for shoddy development and we have listened to their concerns, removing the requirement for a separate building safety charge and scrapping compulsory building safety managers, to help avoid unnecessary costs.” 

So it is probably safe to assume that the decision to scrap the role was made through the prism of reducing leaseholder costs rather than the finer points of building safety. While at first sight the decision might be seen as an arbitrary weakening of the building safety regime set out in the Bill, closer examination reveals there are subtleties to be taken into account before rushing to condemn the abolition.

Reaction from the fire safety industry and commentators to the move has therefore been nuanced. Steve Davies, CEO of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection, said the move is an “interesting step”.

“We understand that the UK Government is keen to ensure that leaseholders do not experience an increased financial burden through the appointment of this role, especially as we currently face a cost of living crisis,” said Mr Davies. “It is conceivable that an ‘over-zealous’ building safety manager could cause escalating costs, especially as the construction and related insurance industries are becoming increasingly risk averse. However, the role of building safety manager played an important function in coordinating fire safety within a building, throughout its construction, commissioning and use.

“The interactions between the Building Safety Bill’s building safety manager, CDM duty-holders, and [the Fire Safety Order’s] responsible person were always a source of complexity, which the ASFP felt was unnecessary. These roles need a level of simplification to ensure clarity exists and effective safety management results, whilst not diluting the tasks, functions and responsibilities that are still necessary.” 

A similar view comes from the Fire Industry Association. CEO Ian Moore told IFSEC Global:

“It was never fully made clear within the Building Safety Bill how the role of the building safety manager would work with the responsible person for the building, as defined in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The first draft of the bill appeared to show a lot of overlap and duplication between the responsible person and the building safety manager. It looks like the government have identified the duplication in responsibilities, and, in an effort to reduce the burden on leaseholders, have scrapped the building safety manager.

“The removal of the building safety manager does not mean buildings will be less safe, as the responsible person for the building has ultimate responsibility for fire safety of the building.”

What does it mean in practice?

But what will the scrapping of the role mean in practical and legal terms? Adrian Mansbridge, Legal Director at Addleshaw Goddard LLP, notes the move follows a backlash from leaseholder groups due to the risk of costs being imposed through the building safety charge.

“The practical implications are to accountable persons implementing the necessary arrangements in order to meet their new obligations. Guidance will be published by the building safety regulator in due course.

“This late change and prolonged uncertainty are not helpful for a sector already facing seismic regulatory changes, compounding existing skills and knowledge gaps which require long term investment to rectify. Inevitably, many will turn to managing agents to assist, whose appetite to assume the role of BSM was (we understand) limited. It is unclear whether this change will now incentivise them to invest in the necessary upskilling to monitor compliance.”

The government’s case is that the change will provide a more proportionate and flexible approach that will enable accountable persons (usually the building owner) to meet their obligations in a way that is most effective for their buildings and residents. It will be the responsibility of accountable persons to ensure they have the necessary arrangements in place to manage and maintain building safety risks in their buildings.

Building safety manager functions

What is clear is that a key layer of the regulatory system in the Building Safety Bill has been taken out. The building safety manager was to have planned, managed and monitored fire and structural safety of buildings in scope, and would have needed relevant skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours to carry out that role. Indeed PAS 8673 – which may need to be repurposed as a result of the scrapping of the building safety manager role – provided that building safety managers need to understand the following:

  • building structures and building systems
  • how systems inherent in buildings operate
  • operational practices necessary to maintain buildings safe for occupiers and visitors
  • technical risk management
  • how to identify, monitor and control risks, projects and the consequences of human behaviour.

The scope of PAS 8673 also includes leadership, communication and planning skills, and personal commitment to ethics, behaviour and professional standards. It describes different grades of competence and sets out how they relate to the competence necessary to manage buildings of differing types and complexities.

Whether the new guidance promised by DLUHC, to help accountable persons understand and meet their obligations without a mandated building safety manager, will adequately fill the gap created remains to be seen. We can only hope that the sterling work done by the stakeholders involved in producing PAS 8673 will not be wasted, and will be taken up in the new guidance to ensure that whomever the accountable person employs, they will have the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours necessary to keep buildings safe throughout their lifetime.

 

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