BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

How will the golden thread work in practice?

With the Building Safety Act set to require a golden thread of safety information for higher-risk buildings in England, what do surveyors need to know about the new regulatory regime?

Author:

  • Aman Sharma

21 June 2022

Aerial view of high-rise buildings

The Building Safety Act has seen many revisions since its introduction on 5 July 2021, officially passing as an Act of Parliament after being given Royal Assent on 28 April 2022. Last year the UK government published eight sets of draft regulations for delegated powers proposed in the bill. The aim was to clarify the bill's contents, and the way it would be implemented once it completed is passage through the Commons and Lords.

One particular subject among these has remained the centre of attention for the construction industry, eliciting debate and discussion on its purpose and position in the new regulatory system: the golden thread.

The golden thread appears as a standing item on the agenda of most construction industry events, webinars and CPD sessions, with delegates and expert speakers alike thrashing out their views on this critical component of the new building safety regime.

Proposing a single source of safety information

The golden thread was central to the recommendations of Building a Safer Future, Dame Judith Hackitt's review of the Building Regulations and fire safety.

During her review, Dame Judith and her team heard 'almost unanimous concern surrounding the ineffective operation of the current rules around the creation, maintenance and handover of building and fire safety information'. She further noted that this lack of information posed many safety challenges.

Dame Judith therefore proposed a golden thread of information for all higher-risk buildings (HRBs) so that their original design intent and the detail of what was built would be preserved, and changes managed through a formal review process. She was also clear that continued access to up-to-date information would be essential to maintain building safety throughout the life cycle of HRBs.

Responsibility for the golden thread policy rests with the Building Safety Programme in the newly named Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). The DLUHC has been working closely with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and various professional bodies to develop the concept of the thread, supported by the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC).

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Working group offers expert input on golden thread

BRAC is a public, non-departmental body was established under section 14 of the Building Act 1984. It comprises independent subject matter experts from across the built environment, appointed by the secretary of state, to advise on the making of Building Regulations and other connected subjects.

BRAC has taken a close interest in the development of the golden thread, recognising its long-term role and significance in the life-cycle management of buildings. It formed a golden thread working group after discussions with the DLUHC, Dame Judith and the Industry Safety Steering Group in August 2020.

The working group brings together a wide range of experts in digital information management, residential building and portfolio operation, fire safety, design and construction, and housing legislation. Together, they serve as the primary source of advice to officials at DLUHC and HSE on developing the golden thread policy.

In July 2021, the government published the BRAC golden thread report and factsheet. Until the publication of secondary legislation, this report and factsheet should be considered the authority for anyone seeking clarity on this critical subject.

What does the golden thread contain?

As defined in the BRAC working group report and factsheet, the golden thread covers the information that allows someone to understand a building, and the measures needed to keep it and the people in and around it safe, both now and in the future.

The golden thread provides digital information, and describes the information management processes needed to identify, understand, manage and mitigate building safety risks. In particular, it aims to prevent or reduce the severity of the consequences of fire spread or structural collapse.

It applies throughout the life of the building, from design and construction through occupation and potential refurbishment. As such, the golden thread needs to be retained and maintained so it is available to all those with responsibility for the building's safety.

The government will be introducing secondary legislation that will provide more detail on the golden thread requirements. It will also provide guidance on the relevant standards for digital information management and exchange. This will take full account of the emerging UK BIM Framework and work already under way in the sector to prepare for the new safety regime, including the Built Environment Competence Standards and BS 8644-1: Digital management of fire safety information.

Supporting a culture of safety

The golden thread also supports wider changes in the regulatory regime such as the development of safety cases, safety case reports, fire and emergency files, which are intended to promote a culture of building safety. This should be taken to cover the fire and structural safety of a building, and of all those people in or around it, including emergency responders.

The provision of relevant and accurate building safety information can enable better, safer working practices across the built environment. For example, if reliable and accurate information were available to an engineer as they reviewed a building's fire strategy, they could make better, more proportionate decisions. Ultimately, this would mean safer buildings and more assured residents.

The golden thread focuses on the 12,500 HRBs coming into scope under the new safety case regime, in addition to the 600 new buildings that will be developed annually. All of these, existing or new, will be required to develop a safety case and a golden thread of their own. They will then obtain a certificate that allows occupancy – and there will be criminal penalties for occupation without such a certificate.

'The golden thread also supports wider changes in the regulatory regime which are intended to promote a culture of building safety'

Thread depends on wide range of stakeholders

The duty to manage building safety information digitally throughout the life cycle of an HRB will fall to the designated accountable person (AP). But a wide range of stakeholders will need to make available all the information required for the golden thread.

Surveyors, architects, designers, fire engineers, contractors, building safety managers, building services engineers, facilities managers, managing agents, emergency services and, of course, residents will all play an active role in providing safety information that is relevant, accurate, secure and accessible.

The AP will need a considered approach to coordinate these groups so they discharge their duties under the new regime. However, the UK BIM Framework offers a tried and tested approach in this area, being the accepted series of standards for information management across the built environment.

The international community is watching intently as we seek a proportionate way to integrate digital requirements with building safety. The new regime, and in particular the golden thread, represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform safety for buildings and residents.

 

Aman Sharma is BRAC's deputy chair and the managing director of Totus Digital
Contact Aman: Email

Related competencies include: Building information modelling (BIM) management, Data management, Fire safety, Health and safety, Legal/regulatory compliance

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