© Adrian Tagg
RICS has now published the first edition of the Planned preventative maintenance of commercial and residential property global guidance note.
The process of planned preventative maintenance (PPM) for all building types appears systematic, with surveyors required to adopt a similarly methodical approach in analysing the principal construction components; however, they are often constrained in doing so by a lack of site access or time.
As a consequence, there is a risk that they provide insufficient advice, or – in the worst case – do not identify or flag up concerns about components that are in significant disrepair. This is something that was thrown into sharp relief during Storm Doris in 2017 and will become more prevalent as we see the impact that a changing climate can have on our buildings.
With 150kph gusts of wind recorded by the Met Office, the storm swept across northern England on 23 February that year, causing considerable disruption and damage.
Of tragic significance was the wind damage to the roof of a shopping centre in Wolverhampton, England. This caused a large, heavy wooden panel from a tank room to become dislodged from the building, fatally striking a member of the public.
The subsequent investigation found that, while the building had been the subject of regular inspections, the section of roof in question had not been assessed in any report; neither had it been subject to maintenance.
The coroner found that the plant room roof would have been difficult to access but, importantly, this fact had not been mentioned in the surveyor reports. The coroner also expressed concern that the relevant RICS guidance note, Building surveys and technical due diligence of commercial property, fourth edition, did not advise that surveyors raise the issue of inaccessible areas with clients, or report on the specific risks that would remain unidentified when they could not gain access.
A further concern raised by the coroner was that future deaths may occur if action were not taken. In line with this, and the publication last year of the Technical due diligence of commercial property RICS guidance note, first edition, new guidance on PPM was also proposed to ensure surveyors are provided with comprehensive advice. Accordingly, RICS embarked on preparation of bespoke guidance on this core building surveying service.
An author and chair were appointed, with a working group convening on a regular basis to develop the document. The aim was to provide specific technical guidance on PPM surveys, and address the concerns raised by the coroner.
The working group decided to look more holistically at the objectives and process of PPM surveys. The principal aims of the guidance note were to identify the discipline-specific requirements for undertaking such surveys, recognise advances in data collection methods, and guide surveyors in providing appropriate advice as well as better protecting the public.
As defined by RICS, a guidance note is not mandatory but represents good practice to be followed by competent and conscientious professionals. Accordingly, the new document recognises the importance of the client instruction but also acknowledges that there are differing client requirements, ranging from high-level PPM surveys through to detailed component analysis.
The one defining principle of the guidance note is that, irrespective of the client instruction, surveyors have a duty of care to report on any items posing a risk to life safety that become apparent during the course of their inspection.
The working group took great care to consider not being overly specific in the guidance, taking into account global practice and the potential for the document to be used in litigation or claims for negligence.
There are many different views on what PPM is, and the level of technical analysis or detail required depends on the client instruction. Therefore, the guidance emphasises the importance of being clear with the client on the scope of services.
Irrespective of the instruction and agreed services, the guidance note indicates how to deal with inaccessible areas, as well as other life safety issues that might not be specifically detailed by the client but cannot be ignored in a PPM survey.
Surveying has traditionally involved inspecting an asset, collecting information and reporting this to a client. In simple terms, surveyors have always been compelled to say what they see, which may be considered easier with traditional low-rise properties that can largely be viewed from ground level.
However, the diverse nature of the built environment and the complexity of medium- or high-rise properties means that inaccessible areas are not just confined to the upper levels of facades, exposed locations or roofs. Increasingly, the cavities in cladding systems or the sealing of fire compartments pose more complex problems.
The guidance note recognises that those undertaking PPM surveys should be competent to do so and possess the relevant knowledge, training and experience. Alongside this, it recommends that they should understand their own limitations, and be conscious of when it is appropriate to seek specialist advice.
Aside from the risks that cannot be identified when roofs or high-level facades are inaccessible, other areas of concern may arise with all building elements.
The guidance note acknowledges that, under normal circumstances, destructive testing is not carried out and concealed areas are not opened. The inspection should therefore instead report evidence of movement, deflection or alteration of the structure where this has the potential to affect stability.
Accordingly there may be a requirement to appoint specialist consultants such as structural engineers, and the PPM guidance note gives specific advice on doing so. Other specialists may need to be appointed to advise on issues including mechanical and electrical services, facades or fire engineering.
This is particularly relevant given recent high-profile fires to facades and cladding. While most surveyors are likely to be comfortable with inspecting and reporting on traditional low-rise masonry facades, the guidance note recognises that if they are not competent or qualified in curtain walling, cladding panels or complex facade systems, they should seek the advice of a specialist consultant.
In line with this, surveyors are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain professional indemnity insurance to cover the provision of advice on facades, cladding and fire safety. As a result, there is an increased necessity either to undertake additional specialist training or to appoint consultants to advise on this.
Of significant concern are the risks associated with advice on complying with legislation and regulation; these risks are varied, but the guidance note identifies typical issues such as fire, health and safety or the presence of deleterious materials such as asbestos.
It also recognises that even where surveyors are acting within the terms of their instructions, which are aligned with the scope of services, they already have a duty of care to consider legal and technical issues, in particular those that might jeopardise life safety. The document recommends that RICS members signpost potential issues and advise how to mitigate them. For example, a PPM survey is not the same as an asbestos survey, but might still identify the presence of asbestos and refer to the need for verification against the asbestos register.
The guidance note likewise acknowledges that the survey is neither a fire safety audit nor health and safety risk assessment, and therefore suggests surveyors should cite findings from the relevant specialists' reports. Such documents may be held by the property manager, owner or occupier of an asset, and surveyors may request these for review under the scope of services.
Surveyors are also expected to be aware of the laws with which the building must comply in their particular country, state or region, and use their judgement and expertise as well as exercising their duty of care to inform the client if there are issues that pose an imminent danger to life.
While the working group recognised that a global guidance note needs to outline what should be considered and included in the survey and report, the exact level of detail was the subject of much discussion.
The published version does retain an emphasis on good client communication, to assess their expectations and requirements in developing an effective scope for services in the instruction.
In fulfilling these requirements, surveyors are advised to take into account their duty of care to mitigate the risks associated with the key concerns outlined above. The guidance note has been also developed to help surveyors achieve a high standard in PPM surveys, recognising the changes in the way data is collected as well as the need to consider the potentially positive impacts effective PPM reports can have on building ownership, occupation and the environment.
With increased risks of flooding, more turbulent storms and adverse weather conditions, surveyors across the world are increasingly having to multi-task in providing their findings, and with limited time or access to perform PPM surveys there is more than ever a need to identify risk as well as key areas of concern when advising clients.
While there are still many tasks that can be performed by surveyors, their future role is increasingly likely to involve the procurement and management of additional specialist services in providing coordinated PPM advice.
Related competencies include: Housing maintenance, repairs and improvements, Inspection, Maintenance management