Jane Embury, director of advanced glazing systems company Wrightstyle.
Earlier this week we wrote about our support for the government’s proposed Building Safety Bill.
For the first time, this would define a role for a duty holder, a key individual to be responsible for all aspects of building safety. This person would have responsibilities from initial design, through construction, to the maintenance stages of high-risk buildings.
A failure of compliance would not simply be a breach of building regulations. It would be a criminal offence, carrying heavy fines or imprisonment.
We welcome that proposed legislative change, particularly in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. It firmly and finally makes building safety an absolute priority.
It was also a key recommendation in Building a Safer Future, Dame Judith Hackitt’s 2018 review of the building industry.
On the face of it, it seems surprising that building safety has been anything other than top of the agenda.
But the problem has always been that corners are too easily cut. Either that, or sub-contractors are employed without the necessary competence or experience.
Now, that systemic problem is finally being exposed. Figures show that the amount of money being held back by contractors and developers to pay for fire-safety remedial work is steadily increasing.
The past two weeks alone have seen huge sums set aside by housebuilders. Construction News says that two housebuilders alone have allocated over £100 million to pay for safety improvements on previous projects.
There is, however, no consistency, with wide variations in the amount of money being set aside.
Largely, this reflects how there is no consistent approach towards fire safety, despite a raft of regulations.
Partly, that’s because the regulatory environment is changing so rapidly. In the wake of Grenfell, everyone is now looking again at fire safety issues.
An obvious example, was the evacuation of some 1,000 residents from a building that was already subject to legal dispute.
The building had seen further safety checks brought about by government guidance from the Grenfell Tower fire.
It has been a shock to the construction sector how the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster continues to reverberate.
It also highlights why the proposed Building Safety Bill is so badly needed. We need people on every higher-risk project to be responsible for safety – particularly fire safety.
Leaving fire safety to contractors, sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors has simply muddied responsibility.
As the Grenfell inquiry is demonstrating, it’s allowing some individuals and companies to simply pass the buck.
The Building Safety Bill means that, in future, the buck will always stop somewhere.
With named individuals responsible, and criminally liable if negligence is proved, maybe we’ll finally see a real focus on fire safety.