Could the Building Safety Act herald a new era for the construction industry?

Simon Blackham, Senior Technical Manager at Recticel, looks at the biggest revision of UK building safety regulation for nearly 40 years and what it means for housebuilders and the construction industry.

Related topics:  Housebuilders,  Building Safety Act
Simon Blackham | Recticel
30th October 2023
Question 901
"We recognise that there are no shortcuts to success and that throughout all stages of the construction process, quality and adherence to industry standards are key to creating buildings that meet design expectations with respect to safety and comfort."
- Simon Blackham - Recticel

The Building Safety Act, which was introduced in April 2022 and will be fully implemented in October 2023, is designed to increase the safety of residential buildings and ensure greater accountability within the construction industry following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

There is no doubt of the need for a revision of current standards and a formal upgrade of expectations with respect to practices throughout the building supply chain as a means of achieving safer, better-quality outcomes. But what key proposals are being enacted and how might they affect construction?

The Building Safety Act is a huge undertaking for the government and the construction industry. Its blueprint was provided by Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim post-Grenfell report into building safety in which she called for a ‘golden thread of information’ to ensure original building design intent is recorded and preserved.

Published in 2018, the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report contained more than 50 recommendations for the delivery of a more robust regulatory system, specifically related to high-rise buildings. The Building Safety Act includes a number of these recommendations.

Building Safety Regulator

The Building Safety Act’s requirement for a Building Safety Regulator (BSR), which oversees safety and standards in high-rise buildings, is a welcome introduction. Operating independently of the government, a BSR will have significant powers to regulate and enforce compliance with building safety requirements.

An overarching aspect of the Building Safety Act is its emphasis on relevant parties being held accountable for failures during the construction process. Hence, the BSR will have the authority to issue enforcement notices, impose financial penalties, and prosecute those responsible for serious breaches of safety regulations. Such outcomes will help BSR fulfil their role in ensuring residents live more safely and securely.

Construction Product Regulations

For insulation manufacturers and suppliers, perhaps the most prescient element of the Building Safety Act is its introduction of Construction Product Regulations (CPR). Essentially, the CPR covers safety-critical products that previously failed to conform to a technical assessment or were not subject to a designated standard.

As well as providing a means of regulation for safety-critical products, the CPR could be extended to impose requirements on the persons using them. This would mean relevant parties accepting more responsibility for the way products are specified and installed.

Manufacturers also face greater scrutiny, with the Building Safety Act introducing potential ‘new causes of action’ for defective products and misleading statements made in the marketing of such items. Manufacturers could also be held liable for their product’s failure leading to a building becoming uninhabitable.

New Era

Of course, long-established advocates of best-building practices will embrace the new regulations. We recognise that there are no shortcuts to success and that throughout all stages of the construction process, quality and adherence to industry standards are key to creating buildings that meet design expectations with respect to safety and comfort.

The end user’s experience signifies the Building Safety Act’s overriding objective: to provide residents with greater peace of mind by empowering them with the means to challenge unsafe and unsuitable buildings via their appointed Building Safety Regulator. For too long, leaseholders in particular have been paying a considerable price to right the wrongs of bad building practice.

Therefore, it seems appropriate that the Building Safety Act puts an onus on developers or property owners to foot the bill – if liable – for remedial work to make a building safe.

It’s to be hoped that the Building Safety Act represents a new era for UK construction. If the proceeding decade sees a culture change, with unprecedented value attached to building safety and quality, then the regulations will have achieved their aim.

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