Jane Embury, director of advanced glazing systems supplier Wrightstyle, looks at proposed safety legislation for high-risk buildings.
To better ensure fire safety, commercial buildings must appoint a responsible person.
That person’s duties involve determining fire risks and appropriate strategies for minimising them.
But a building’s responsible person is only appointed when that building has been completed. Therefore, he or she has no responsibility for the quality – or otherwise – of that building’s design or construction.
Making good that omission, and in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, we’re pleased with provisions contained in the draft Building Safety Bill.
It defines a role of duty holder, a key individual from the design, through construction, to maintenance of high-risk buildings.
These people would be legally responsible, from start to finish, for all aspects of managing risk.
It was a key recommendation in Building a Safer Future, Dame Judith Hackitt’s 2018 review of the building industry.
The draft Building Safety Bill was published in July 2020, and proposes amendments to the existing Building Act.
Among other proposals, it sets out the requirements for a duty holder, with criminal liability on those who don’t meet their obligations.
Although the draft Bill doesn’t provide many details, those will be covered in later secondary legislation.
What the draft Bill does say is that duty holders involved with “higher-risk” buildings will have formal responsibilities to ensure compliance with Building Regulations.
Duty holders will have responsibility to clients, principal and other designers, and all contractors.
While the issue of duties and responsibilities will be the subject of secondary legislation, the draft Bill does give some indications.
These will include a general duty on “prescribed persons” to govern the way building work is carried out. Notes to the draft say this is to avoid building regulations being seen as a “a tick-box exercise.”
Underlining that, there will be “competence requirements.” In addition, anyone appointing a “prescribed person” must take reasonable steps to assess their competency.
In particular, a client will be obliged to provide a signed declaration that it has assessed and is content with the competence of the Principal Designer and Principal Contractor.
In cases of non-compliance, the Regulator will have powers to prosecute all offences in the Building Act. Prosecutions under the Act could be brought up to 10 years from the date of the alleged breach.
Giving the legislation large and pointy teeth, breaches of the new requirements will be criminal offences. Penalties could be both fines and imprisonment.
There are, of course, a number of issues that have yet to be fully addressed. But what it does do is elevate the issue of building safety to a new level.
As a company committed to the highest levels of safety, from design through to installation, we welcome the draft legislation.
Over the years, we’ve seen many instances of fire safety compromise. For example, poorly-specified screens, or badly-installed fire doors.
We’ve raised issues of fire safety with authorities in the UAE and the UK, and will continue to do so.
In any complex construction project, it’s tempting for designers or contactors to cut corners. After all, any cost savings fall to the bottom line.
Hopefully, this proposed legislation will make it more difficult to cut corners, particularly where safety is concerned.
By making individuals legally responsible at every stage of a building project, it will provide greater certainty to a building’s safety. That can only be a good thing.