A new culture of accountability by the Building Safety Regulator

16 October 2020

Dame Judith Hackett said: ‘They can no longer rely on “I did what the rules said”; from now on, they will have to demonstrate to the regulator that the building is safe. That culture change needs to start happening across the board.’

She urged built environment professionals to ‘recognise that there are other people out there in different industry sectors who can help them, who can support them and can be part of training them … by learning from the experiences of people who have gone through similar things.’

Dame Judith was giving evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, as part of the MPs’ work to scrutinise the draft Building Safety Bill.

The new Bill creates new responsibilities for construction teams and landlords of existing residential buildings over six storeys; 13,000 are thought to be in scope across England.

The new legislation could result in prosecution and criminal sanctions if an adequate ‘safety case’ is not submitted to the new Building Safety Regulator, or improvement notices are ignored.

The Regulator is expected to have a staff of 700 to 800, headed by a new Chief Inspector of Buildings; the role comes with a seat on the HSE executive committee.

Duty holders in construction need to get to get an understanding of the bill’s new terminology and concepts, and to start preparing for their new duties. To help, the HSE hoped to produce sample safety case documents showing ‘what good looks like’ in the next few months.

In her evidence, Dame Judith also argued that construction professionals should ‘aspire’ to become building safety managers (BSM), because of the status of the future role and the social purpose that lies behind it.

The Bill says that a Higher Risk Residential Building’s (HRRB) accountable person – probably the client or landlord – will appoint a BSM to be responsible for the day-to-day management of fire and structural safety, and for creating a clear point of contact for residents on fire and safety-related issues.

Hackitt said: ‘What we are doing is creating new and responsible roles that people should aspire to fulfil because they have a very worthy purpose. Being a Building Safety Manager ought to be regarded as an important role to fulfil and should be rewarded accordingly.’

Last week’s evidence session coincided with the publication of Setting the Bar, the final report of the industry-led Competence Steering Group, set up as part of the Hackitt Review process.

According to the sub-report from Working Group 8, which define the role of the BSM and the skills needed to carry it out, a BSM – hired in-house or a named individual working for external consultants – should:

  • hold an appropriate professional qualification and have experience in managing building risk
  • pass an online assessment on their knowledge and understanding of the subject
  • submit a paper and a portfolio of work, to be assessed by a  professional interview; and
  • have at least three to five years of relevant experience.

The theme of culture change in construction, which – under the proposed legislation – will be asked to about report all fire safety or structural issues to the regulator.

‘In some industries a culture of self-reporting has developed successfully, and there is a strong sense of a no-blame culture if you self-report – it shows that you’re learning and helping your industry to learn,’ she said.

We need to raise competence throughout the sector, but for certain critical roles, like principal designer, principal contractor and building safety managers, yes there will be a need to be accredited independently in the role they fulfil.

We need a system, although whether that’s held by the regulator or by the professional bodies remains to be determined.

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