The Building Safety Bill has now been published, a move which the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) welcomes since the reform of building safety and the building regulations is long overdue.
As expected the Bill establishes new regulators for Building Safety and for Construction Products, and a new Construction Products Standards Committee. It also puts in place a framework that ensures engagement with residents of high rise buildings.
In his introduction to the Draft Bill Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government declares:
‘The Bill will introduce a new era of accountability, making it clear where the responsibility for managing safety risks lies throughout the design, construction and occupation of buildings in scope. There will be tougher sanctions for those that fail to meet their obligations.
‘Central to ensuring the regime is effective will be a powerful new Building Safety Regulator housed within the Health and Safety Executive. It will have responsibility for implementing and enforcing the more stringent regime for higher-risk buildings and will oversee the safety and performance of all buildings.’
He goes on to warn:
‘Industry should also prepare for the substantial changes that are coming. Many in industry have already been working to improve standards and have shaped and influenced this Bill. Now they must accelerate this work to improve industry wide culture, competence and compliance. The new Building Safety Regulator will work closely with industry to drive a change in culture that prioritises residents and ensures their safety.’
The ASFP welcomes the new Bill and hopes that the necessary change in culture will occur. The new Bill puts in place the underpinning law that will enable change to happen. It is an important first step but, once in place, the implementation and development of the detailed secondary legislation will be key to our success in implementing all the reforms to implement all the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s report ‘Building a Safer Future’. While the Bill establishes new regulators for Building Safety and for Construction Products, and a new Construction Products Standards Committee, the devil will be in the detail. The Bill establishes the overarching framework but does little to define how these regulators will operate, the requirements they will define and impose and how they will enforce.
For example, the Bill states that the Building Safety Regulator ‘may at any time make proposals to the Secretary of State for the making of regulations.’ Key to this is the word MAY, the Bill puts the provisions in place to allow for change but there remains a great deal of work to be undertaken thereafter to ensure that the Bill actually follows through on its promise.
Similarly the Bill creates the concept of a ‘safety critical product’ and gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to place safety critical products on a statutory list. However, it does not create the list or define what products may or may not be included on it.
The Building Safety Regulator will also be responsible for oversight of the competence and performance of building control. Again, the Bill provides the framework for this but the regulator or a designated body will develop the details.
The Bill relies on continued collaboration across the entire construction and fire safety sector. ASFP will work to ensure that our members opinions and the desire to improve the quality of installed passive fire protection are represented during the consultations that will take place over the coming months. However, can we rely on this sort of cooperation (from certain sectors) to continue in the tough economic conditions that will result from Covid-19? We have already seen some of the bad habits return as contractors undercut one another to win work and the race to the bottom once again returns, with price rather than quality and safety the overwhelming priority.
Phase two of the Grenfell Public Inquiry has already clearly demonstrated how responsibilities were ducked, with different parties assuming the other had the knowledge and expertise to make the right decisions as products were specified and installed.
The Building Safety Bill must be applauded for its vision and aspiration to herald a new era where safety is the key priority with strict enforcement vital to ensure improvements. The publication of the Bill is an important step and the ASFP looks forward to working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and with industry stakeholders to ensure that it lives up to this early promise.
For further information, go to www.asfp.org.uk