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September 4, 2019

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Hackitt’s ‘golden thread’: Steps to true transparency and accountability

Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Building a Safer Future: Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’, produced in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, made a number of recommendations on preventing similar incidents from taking place in the future.

At FIREX International 2019, Dr Gavin Dunn (CEO, Chartered Association of Building Engineers), Miller Hannah (Partner, Hoare Lea), Sofie Hooper (Senior Policy Advisor, IWFM) and Tom Roche (Assistant Vice President & Senior Consultant within the International Codes and Standards Group, FM Global) sat down to discuss her suggestions, in particular the ‘golden thread’.

Below are the takeaways from this panel debate.

What is the golden thread?

Fire safety belongs to everyone, not just fire safety professionals. The ‘golden thread’ seeks to extend fire safety best practice beyond fire professionals to wider society, relaying key information about a building through a chain of stakeholders, from architects to fire engineers to through to building safety managers to end-users. The ultimate aim is to “arm end-users with information”.

How achievable is this golden thread of information that spans regulatory, design, compliance, construction and operational management functions? Can we get the entire supply chain to agree on a common process to achieve true transparency of information across our buildings? And how do we get there?

There are two clear challenges: a lack of residency engagement and an absence of up-to-date building data

The golden thread ties into other recommendations, including Hackitt’s suggestion buildings should have a designated building safety manager. This is not strictly a new role, but one that she suggests should be made mandatory and carry more responsibility instead of so often being tied up in the broader facilities manager role. In this way, buildings can begin to develop a framework for reporting and sharing information.

But there are two clear challenges: a lack of residency engagement and an absence of up-to-date building data.

Meeting these challenges requires a common language that residents, architects and fire safety professionals alike can understand, as well as more readily-available digital information that can easily be kept up to date.

More than anything, it requires a defined fire safety strategy. Even though there is already some accessible information about buildings, it is often disjointed and found across various locations, so it requires a more integrated, accessible approach.

What needs to be done?

The golden thread may be an aspiration for the industry, but some definitive action is already being taken, particularly in newer buildings.

Companies, however, are wary about committing large funds towards enforcing this approach, so there are calls for the government to be more proactive in enforcing it. Establishing the golden thread begins with planning and regulation. Engineers should be better prepared to hand over plans and documents to facilities managers – it’s an approach that starts from the very beginning.

Of course, this means that complying with the golden thread approach is easier for new buildings, which can start from the ground up. It becomes a more significant challenge for existing buildings. Effectively managing cultural change and identifying who takes responsibility for creating the information chain is key.

The current state of affairs

The current discussion around the golden thread is centred on high-rise buildings – perhaps inevitable, with Grenfell in mind.

But the panel brought up the need to apply it more widely. Consider large public buildings, arenas and conference centres, for example. When a building hosts a huge number of people, inadequate information could be catastrophic.

It emphasises the importance of applying the cultural change across all industries and all buildings.

There are also questions about the security of digital technology, which will need to play a large role in the creation of the ‘common platform and language’ the golden thread will need to be truly successful. How does the industry identify the right technology to enable information sharing?

And what about budget? Even when it comes to social housing – like Grenfell itself – there needs to be guaranteed budget for skills and training. If a building safety manager is necessary, how will they be properly funded?

Answering these questions is a challenge. Root-and-branch cultural change requires significant time and money. Such is the scale of task, there is a real risk governments and companies will hide behind the golden thread as an “aspiration”, rather than taking real steps to change it. But meaningful action on this score is imperative – it may just prevent another Grenfell-scale tragedy.

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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Alan Cox

The “Golden Thread” is something that I have been campaigning for over recent years and without doubt if we are to improve fire safety in the UK we have to involve all of the stated “stake holders” especially the end user. The information has to be available in an easy to understand format together with being open, honest and transparent, something that it is not at present. I have often heard fire safety described as a “black art” and in my experience this is often true so we must all look at what we do and see if we can… Read more »

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