In December 2017, six months after the Grenfell Tower fire, Dame Judith Hackitt produced her interim report on the Building Regulations and fire safety. In her summary of key findings, she remarked: 'the current regulatory system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings is not fit for purpose.'
She went on to note: 'This applies throughout the life cycle of a building, both during construction and occupation, and is a problem connected both to the culture of the construction industry and the effectiveness of the regulators.'
That word 'culture' may seem small; but it is so pertinent when considering how to develop an effective building safety system.
With the aim of advancing the culture of building safety, the organisation CROSS-UK has recently been relaunched. Its new name, Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures UK, reflects a wider remit that now includes fire as well as structural safety.
Significant investment from the Building Safety Programme team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has enabled a complete refresh of the CROSS website, and supported the organisation's new engagement with the fire sector.
Established as Confidential Reporting on Safer Structures in 2005 by the Standing Committee on Structural Safety, CROSS-UK was modelled by founder Alastair Soane on the US Aviation Safety Reporting System, with which he had a working relationship. It was designed to enable structural engineers to share their learning on building safety in an independent, non-judgemental process.
The organisation's relaunch means it can now support fire safety reporting as well, allowing professionals to share lessons that need to be learned, and providing them with some insight into the fire safety regime. The need for a knowledge hub of this kind, which can 'provide rich data to inform future policy decisions', was another of the Hackitt review's proposals.
When a conscientious professional shares something they are concerned about or something they have learned, an expert panel appointed by the relevant body – the Institution of Fire Engineers for fire safety, and the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Structural Engineers for structural safety – analyses the information and assesses what lessons need to be learned. In each case, panel members are chosen on the basis that they have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience and are highly regarded in their field.
Figure 1 below shows the reporting process. First, a report is submitted to CROSS-UK online. It is then anonymised, being read by designated staff who triage the information and remove all references that might identify the reporter or the building or project in question.
Next, the expert panel comments, adding their knowledge to the lessons to be learned, and this is followed by a legal review. Finally, the document is reviewed by the party who originally reported the issue, and then published.
Figure 1: The CROSS-UK reporting process © CROSS-UK
The process relies on trust, integrity and a level of transparency, with the right people doing the right thing at the right time, fostering a positive culture.
More than 1,000 reports have been submitted to CROSS in the past 16 years and the resulting analysis has been disseminated in our publications, with safety alerts issued when necessary.
Even when it dealt only with structural safety, CROSS always received reports on fire safety, generally in situations where the two issues intersected.
Nowadays, such engineering challenges are increasing in number and complexity for both fire and structural safety professionals, given, for instance, the use of mass timber for structural elements, or new approaches in response to net-zero carbon targets. However, until the CROSS-UK relaunch there was no forum in which such concerns and ideas could be safely explored.
As well as considering reports in their respective areas of expertise, the two panels come together at regular events to share opinions that can inform changes to building safety regulations. The revamped CROSS-UK is ideally placed to fit into the building safety regulatory framework as it implements the Hackitt review's recommendations.
RICS global building standards director Gary Strong comments: 'RICS is a supporter of CROSS's values, and we recommend members use it to report incidents so knowledge can be shared widely across the industry.'