Improving safety post-Grenfell

Improving safety post-Grenfell

John Woodhall looks at proposals to improve safety in the wake of the Grenfell tower fire.

Post-Grenfell, keeping people safe in high rise residential buildings is the overriding priority. The government’s consultation on the Hackitt report sets out over 50 recommendations as to how to deliver a more robust regulatory system for the future.

As part of a new safety regime to improve construction industry best practice report author Dame Judith Hackitt proposes a new Building Safety Regulator. The concern is that the introduction of a new regulatory authority leads to a two-tier system, whereby the Building Safety Regulator works to more robust standards for high rise residential buildings whilst all other buildings are subject to the usual controls.

Hackitt also introduces the concept of the duty holder, who will be legally responsible for determining that a building complies with the rules before people move in. Since this will involve consideration of the M&E, structural and architectural aspects of a building, the role is likely to be fulfilled by multi-skilled teams that include principal designers and architects. Essentially a positive step, there could be an overlap between the responsibilities of duty holders and clients, main contractors and the ‘accountable person’, so we need to be clear who has the final say.

A proposed new inspection regime will incorporate ‘inspection gateways’ at three key stages of a development and there will be harsher sanctions for non-compliance. It’s vital for industry professionals to understand how the legislation will be applied to avoid problems when a scheme close to practical completion is deemed unfit for occupation under the new regulations.
Digital technology has an important role to play as it enables us to ascertain compliance at the design stage, but it will surely require firms to make a significant investment. Industry professionals attending a Building Live Club conference to assess how Hackitt’s proposals will become reality expect BIM to provide the necessary frameworks covering rules and standards, enabling the industry to share data and minimise defects.

We would certainly concur with the industry view that this is an opportunity to improve procurement and any overhaul of the tender process should aim to deliver a sensible price: quality ratio. With some provisos, the Hackitt report makes some sound recommendations. It’s now down to the industry to work with government to effect not only a change in approach to design and construction but a culture shift that puts the safety of people first.

Download Wakemans Vision – August 2019