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October 5, 2022

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The Video Surveillance Report 2023

Building safety

Designing a building safety strategy – A case study from Orbit

In this article, Neil Yeomans, Head of Property Safety at Orbit, discusses the housing provider’s Building Safety Strategy. Hoping that it provides a useful template for others in the sector to follow to make the built environment safer, Neil explains how it was created and why it will be central to Orbit’s work on the Building Safety Act.

Neil Yeomans, Head of Property Safety at Orbit

Building safety has risen to the top of the agenda across the construction and housing sectors since the Grenfell 2017 tragedy, and none more so than within the social housing sector.

Until recently the legislation and guidance published by the Government and the Health and Safety Executive was very high-level, in many cases leaving uncertainty in how best to operationalise the new legal requirements. At Orbit, it is in our nature to be proactive, and therefore we set out to build a flexible strategy that reflected the clear spirit of the law, in confidence that it could ultimately be adapted to deliver on the letter of the law.

Over the past five years we have had success in becoming the first national housing association to achieve both PAS 7 and BS9997 accreditation, which are both risk management systems. The journey we took to become accredited was long and hard, and we had more than our share of setbacks on the way. Importantly for us, these standards provided a north-star to chase and gave us faith that we were moving in the right direction. And the journey to accreditation became even more worthwhile following the HSE’s recognition that BS9997 is an example of the type of safety management system they wish to see implemented across the sector.

Our Building Safety Strategy was based upon the same principles, choosing to implement a combination of existing British and International Standards in order to establish a holistic building safety management system. The benefit of using existing British and International Standards is that they provide tried and tested guidance on achieving a comprehensive system and will help to avoid the risk of wasting our effort and resources.

The strategy

The innovation of our approach lies in the fact that we are combining six separate standards together to achieve a unique, comprehensive risk management system, which we believe will provide safety and reassurance to our residents. What’s more, our strategy has been designed to address four specific challenges.

Firstly, the strategy must enshrine customer safety as our number one priority.  Secondly, it must be financially responsible. It must avoid a two-tier system, so we do not have some customers with higher levels of safety compared to others. Thirdly it must accurately judge the pace and extent of delivery so that we neither undercook, nor overcook our delivery ahead of more detailed regulation.  Finally, we must achieve a position where we attract and retain talented, competent employees in a competitive building safety employment market to help ensure we can offer the safest conditions to our residents.

The Standards we are combining together are:

BS9997; the country’s preeminent fire risk management system. The power of BS9997 is it recognises that the root cause of many fires can be found far away from the building itself. It is the way decisions are made at head offices that are key. The way we procure, the way we lead our teams, the way we build a culture that is unashamedly on a continual improvement journey.  BS9997 challenges us on all these fronts, and many more, to help address the underlying causes of fire.

ISO22301; this is an international standard on resilience. It is designed to help reduce the risk of a catastrophe occurring and, if it did occur, to help us to react and recover safely. These thoughts would be familiar to anyone that has listened to Dame Judith Hackitt or Peter Baker speak over the last few years.

It is these two standards that will be combined to form our safety case files.

ISO 19650; another international standard, this document focuses on information management of the built environment. Quite simply, we see this document as the way in which we will manage our data processes, giving reliable information to all parties that require it.

BS8644; this is a standard that will help us deliver consistent, fire specific, data throughout the life cycle of a building – it will form a key part of delivering our Golden Thread. The standard is yet to be published, but it is expected to be released in the next 12 months.

Soft landings; Soft landings is worthy of an article of its own, as it could be the answer to so many of our sector’s problems with new builds. However, for the purpose of this article (and in sympathy to anyone who has made it this far down my ramblings), I’ll keep it brief.

The concept is that we eradicate the traditional ‘cliff edge’ hand over for our high-risk buildings and create a much deeper relationship between the people building the property and those who will eventually manage it. Key to this is a three-year period after handover where the builder is still intimately involved with the optimisation of the building. It means that the eventual accountable person has the opportunity to learn about their building from the people who built it.

BSI Flex 8670 V3.0; this document sets out core criteria for building safety competence, including fire safety, structural safety and public health, and was written with the express purpose to be included in frameworks for individuals working in the built environment.  It should be added that we have bolstered this with aspects of the excellent ‘Safer people, safer homes: Building Safety Management’ document released by Working Group 8 in June 2020.

The delivery

The first step in achieving this ‘standards based’ approach is to conduct a gap analysis between our current practices and those required by the new standards introduced. The gap analysis provides us with a clear set of actions required to achieve each of the standards.

Our Building Safety Strategy provides an in-depth approach to how we will manage new and existing buildings and keep our residents safe. We believe that by combining these standards, it will give us the type of risk management system that we understand Dame Judith Hackitt envisaged in her reports.

One of Dame Judith’s other wishes was for the industry to take responsibility to drive innovation and leadership for itself. With that in mind, whilst we appreciate that the combination of these six standards is likely to be unique to Orbit, we are more than willing to share our work. To this end, we will be sharing a range of our documents on www.orbitgroup.org.uk over the next few weeks.

Whether it be our strategic planning documents or our template for our BS9997 and ISO 22301 based safety case files and reports, all will be welcome to adapt them to your own organisation. Hopefully it will help move us all forward more quickly and sure footedly over the coming months and years. Most of all, we hope that sharing our thoughts and resources will make the built environment safer for residents across the country.


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Ashley Theakstone
Ashley Theakstone
October 13, 2022 11:35 am

Hi Neil, well done Orbit. does this strategy include the Safety Cases for your building portfolio?