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October 6, 2020

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Opinion

NSI calls for third party certification to be “more widely adopted” in response to Draft Building Safety Bill

The National Security Inspectorate (NSI) has cautiously welcomed Government proposals in its newly introduced Building Safety Bill to overhaul building regulations and introduce a clearer legal system to prioritise residents’ fire safety. The certification body offers its thoughts, here.

These reforms are based upon recommendations within Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Building a Safer Future’ final report issued in 2018, following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which the Government promised to fully implement.

The resulting Building Safety Bill confirms that the Government is “prioritising…the urgent reform of the regulatory system for buildings. The extensive reforms brought forward in this large and complex Bill represent the most significant and fundamental changes to building safety legislation in decades.”

Fire safety consultation

The Building Safety proposals follow hard on the heels of the separate Fire Safety Bill introduced in March, which includes amendments to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The latter clarifies for England and Wales the areas of multi-occupied residential buildings for which the responsible person or duty holder must manage and reduce the fire risk (in Scotland, the ‘Domestic Technical Handbook’ was updated in late-2019).

The Government is also currently seeking views on proposals to strengthen the Fire Safety Order, implement Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations, and strengthen the regulatory framework for how building control bodies consult with Fire and Rescue Authorities.

BuildingSafety-20

A consultation on these proposals, which opened in July, runs until 12 October 2020. NSI’s firm view, as a leading UK certification body, is that Third Party Certification (TPC) should be adopted more widely to help govern the sector, since independent audit of competence and management control across a range of fire safety measures can demonstrably improve outcomes, and help raise standards the public can rely on.

TPC in the fire safety sector is not new but is voluntary. Leveraging it to raise standards and safety is currently restricted to those who believe in its merits. Organisations holding TPC demonstrate their pre-disposition to continuous improvement, and its benefits in terms of organisational efficiency and the quality of fire safety systems and services delivered.

Third party certification’s proven value

An exemplar of the positive impact TPC can have is in the security industry, which has delivered a reduction in the rate of false alarms received by the police by over 90% since 1995. How? By raising the standards of alarm installers and alarm receiving centres in line with NPCC (National Police Chiefs’ Council) aspirations for a reduction in false alarms – themselves a distracting cause of wasteful police resource deployment. Isn’t now the time for the valuable experience of the security alarms industry to be recognised and TPC adopted more widely in fire safety?

The Building Safety Bill picks up on 53 recommendations of the Hackitt report: Dame Judith (recently named as one of IFSEC Global’s top influencers in the fire safety sector) shone a light on crucial problems, including a lack of understanding of the roles and responsibilities of those involved in a building through the various stages of its life-cycle. A fundamental shortfall in the competency of individuals – during both the design and construction phases of a building, and then during the occupation and maintenance phases – was underlined and the report concluded, amongst other things, the need to better inform and engage residents in building safety about their homes.


READ: Third Party Certification and its role in firestopping


The concept of a ‘duty holder’ with responsibilities/accountabilities under law for building safety was recommended, along with a requirement for broader risk management, including structural safety of the whole building. A fresh regulatory framework comprising local authority building standards, fire and rescue authorities, and the Health and Safety Executive was proposed to oversee better management of safety risks in buildings through their entire life cycle.

New Building Safety Regulator

Addressing these and other issues, the Building Safety Bill duly proposes a Building Safety Regulator operating within the Health & Safety Executive to enforce a far more stringent set of safety rules for all buildings higher than 18m or six storeys (not including any storeys below ground level), from the initial design phase for the entire lifecycle of the building.

The proposed Regulator’s duties would essentially be to introduce a better safety system and authority to impose sanctions where regulations are breached. It would achieve this through a more stringent regulatory framework and place a stronger focus on building safety for developers and landlords.

Importantly, in NSI’s view, such a framework will include introducing steps said to improve the competence and capabilities of those working in the built environment sector, through instructing an industry-led competence committee and publishing non-statutory advice and guidance for various sectors.

A new duty holder regime would be implemented in every building, with the aim of ensuring that the person or entity that creates a building safety risk is responsible for managing that risk. The building cycle would be split into gateways – phases of the building’s life – with different duty holders for different gateways. For example, the duty holder for the design phase of the build being the principal designer; for the construction phase the duty holder being the principal contractor.

The gateway would be assessed at each handover by the Regulator, who would be allowed to step in and stop progress when building safety aims were seen as not being met. These different phases will be connected by a ‘golden thread of information’, being passed on from duty holder to duty holder, to include details about the original design and construction, as well as details on the changes and upgrades to the building during its lifecycle.

Once the building is occupied, the duty holder would become the accountable person – usually the building owner – responsible for safety once people are living in the block. The accountable person will also be responsible for registering the building with the Building Safety Regulator, appointing a building safety manager (with experience in this role), and securing a building safety assurance certificate before it is occupied. The certificate will only be issued once the regulator is satisfied the accountable person has met statutory obligations. This process will also be brought in for existing buildings.

Meanwhile, a new residents’ panel aims to ensure the residents have a voice in any changes made to building safety guidance. The panel will include, for instance, residents of high-rise blocks and representative tenants’ groups. The Building Safety Regulator must consult the residents’ panel on its strategic plan and any changes that may impinge on their rights and obligations. The regulator will also have a statutory obligation to regularly publish statements outlining how it will engage with residents in its work.

Building control issues are also addressed in the Bill, with amendments to the Building Act 1984 that will include the regulator becoming the building control authority for any “higher risk building”.

Conclusion

Reviewing this Building Safety Bill in the round, NSI cautiously welcomes it as a potential milestone in improved safeguarding high-rise buildings and their occupants. Managing risk and maximising safety are crucial in all stages of a building’s life, with the central tenet in our view being the establishment of a clear framework defining competency and responsibility.

This legislation promises much needed reforms. Its success will ultimately hinge on effective implementation to deliver the fundamental safety and compliance it sets out to achieve – placing the safety of building users at its heart.

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