Can effective Information Management ensure safety of our buildings?
Following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, which led to the demise of 72 innocent people, the housing sector has worked diligently to elevate the standard of building safety, compliance data, and fire safety procedures for evacuation. However, with persistent challenges in the implementation of the Building Safety Act of 2022 which seeks to ensure a more vigorous and accountable regulatory structure, will a better information management system help? Let’s find out…
Challenges of the Building Safety Act of 2022
The Building Safety Act mandates the formation of a new Building Safety Regulator (BSR), a body that will have a range of significant enforcement powers and will set the building safety performance standards to be met by the building control bodies (BCBs). If a building control body violates the minimum performance standards, the BSR will investigate and direct penalties and enforcement powers, including taking away the building control body from the official register. In addition, if a Local Authority breaches its building safety performance standards, its building control department can be taken over by the BSR, which will appoint officers from another Local Authority to assume control.
For new build projects, Duty Holders should be appointed to supervise and manage the safety of the building during construction. This requires appointing people with the correct experience and skills to manage building safety and share appropriate building safety information with those who need it.
Speaking at the LHC Christmas Conference last month, Dame Judith Hackitt said that historically there has been a lack of lack of discipline in managing change and managing information around the design and built. “I struggle to understand how many of you who are involved in procurement or managing properties in occupation have managed to do your jobs without the necessary information to know what you have. If you don’t know what was built, how it is meant to operate, and what are the safety critical features to maintain and preserve the integrity of the building, how can you do a good job?”, she says. “You now have the opportunity to demand that information with support from a regulator who will be assessing, in the case of high-rise buildings particularly but not exclusively, whether they are safe to be handed over for occupation,” adds Hackitt.
Adding to this Anthony Taylor, Interim Chair of Building Safety Alliance, and one of the panellists at the LHC Christmas Conference, said, “There needs to be a great amount of focus on the management of the buildings, particularly on the competence and behaviours of the individuals and the organisations who deal with them. When asked about the emphasis on the importance of culture change and stakeholder buy-in in implementing the building safety guidance, he feels, “It is a matter of persuading people to come with you rather than thrashing them with a stick. However, you do need a stick as there are individuals out there who would take a less diligent approach to life."
What role can Effective Information Management play?
In fulfilling the requirements of the Building Safety Act, effective information management can play a vital role as this involves collecting and maintaining a wide range of critical information throughout the whole lifecycle of a building –often mentioned as the golden thread of information. This necessary safety information enables building managers and owners to understand how their building works, and how to keep the building and the people safe all the time.
“Agreeing on what the golden thread needs to look like and how to prepare a safety case report for new and occupied buildings is something that people in this room can and should be part of and not waiting for others to prescribe for you. At the heart of the new regime is the need for people to recognise their responsibility and be held to account for them,” said Judith Hackitt. “You must discuss among yourselves and agree on what information is that you need to perform your role and then send out a consistent message to your supply chains to ensure that you get that information, “she added.
Professor David Mosey, from Kings College London and co-author of Guidance on Collaborative Procurement for Design and Construction to Support Building Safety, adds, “You have got a gateway to the start on-site, you are submitting applications at that point. BSR will look not at what’s in the form but how you prepared ahead of that. The guidance takes you through evaluation procedures, getting a contractor early, and integration to involve residents and the supply chain. This is not a divide and rule, and collaboration is intrinsic to it,” when asked about how to bring the guidance on Building Safety into practice. (This guidance was established to help the construction industry adopt and implement procurement practices to deliver high-quality, safe buildings.)
By implementing vigorous information management practices in response to the Building Safety Act, local authorities and building owners can ensure the availability, and integrity of relevant information. This can streamline effective, risk assessment, decision-making, and coordination among stakeholders while supporting the proactive recognition of hazards, simplifying maintenance activities, and helping with effective emergency response practices.
To sum up, I can’t agree more with Judith Hackitt who said, “When we talk of asset management, we first talk about how much it costs and I don’t think we spend enough time on reflecting on the costs of not doing it. If you think safety costs a lot of money, try having an accident. If you don’t put the cost of keeping the assets up to standard, then you will face consequences like the Grenfell.”
At CPC, our Asset Safety and Compliance (ASC1) framework has been developed following ongoing engagement and consultation with public sector organisations including housing associations, local authorities, and healthcare facilities. This framework provides a full suite of asset safety and compliance disciplines providing a method to meet government guidelines regarding life safety, property protection, and maintenance.
This framework also compliments our upcoming Fire Safety framework (FS2), an upgrade to our existing FS1 framework, that will provide new or replacement passive and active fire protection measures for existing and new domestic and non-domestic buildings and covers current legislation, including the Building Safety Act 2022, Fire Safety Act 2021, and Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022.