In February, I was appointed chief inspector of buildings to head up the new building safety regulator (BSR), which is being set up as part of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The bill has yet to pass through parliament, and the intention is that it will become law next year followed by a range of new responsibilities on those designing, building, maintaining and managing higher-risk buildings. The fire statement requirements are being introduced ahead of the legislation through planning law from 1 August this year.
It is therefore important that, as built environment professionals, you are aware of the potential changes to the building safety regime and what these mean for you. You may need to revise systems, procedures and working practices, or introduce new ones, to ensure you are ready for the law coming into effect.
The reforms to the building safety system, of which the creation of the BSR is an important part, respond to the recommendations of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The government is implementing the reforms through the Building Safety Bill and has charged HSE, as an established and experienced regulator, with setting up the BSR in England.
The BSR aims to set up and oversee a robust and proportionate building safety regime, adopting a multidisciplinary approach to managing the safety of higher-risk buildings (HRBs), working with the construction industry and other regulators such as local authorities, fire and rescue services, residents and housing bodies.
The BSR will have several functions. It will be responsible for regulatory decisions at key points during an HRB's design and construction, occupation and refurbishment, and the legislation will ensure there is clear accountability for dutyholders throughout that building's life cycle. The BSR will also provide oversight and competence assurance for the whole built environment.
As the chief inspector of buildings, I have three key priorities in establishing the BSR:
Under the Building Safety Bill, the BSR will have a specific duty to keep the safety and standard of buildings under review.
This broad oversight function is new and applies to all buildings. The BSR will monitor the performance of the safety and standards system, identify new and emerging risks and issues, and make recommendations about new standards, guidance and, where necessary, legislation. This will be supported by a new Buildings Advisory Committee that is being set up.
While the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) will retain responsibility for building legislation and the Home Office for fire regulations, many of the broad functions of the BSR under the Building Safety Bill will closely mirror those of the HSE under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
Key to the success of the new regime will be establishing a sensible, proportionate and goal-setting approach to risk, placing responsibility for managing and controlling risks with the dutyholders that create them.
The BSR will assist and encourage competence among professionals, regulators, and others involved in the built environment to improve the quality of design, construction and management of buildings. Ensuring competence and a positive safety culture across the whole built environment is crucial.
These requirements will also apply to regulators such as building control bodies, and the BSR will seek to improve competence and accountability by developing a unified professional and regulatory structure. This will include creating the role of registered building inspector, with competency criteria being set for this in the private and public sectors.
The aim is to provide confidence that, whether you engage your local authority or an approved building inspector, you can expect a consistent standard of professionalism and technical competence, and approach to the application of Building Regulations.
These building inspectors will be listed on a national register overseen by the BSR. The regulator will investigate allegations of professional misconduct and take disciplinary action where necessary, such as varying, suspending or even cancelling an inspector's registration.
We are also working with organisations including the BSI to design a competence framework and support the development of four standards. These include BSI Flex 8670: Built environment – Core criteria for building safety in competence frameworks – Code of practice, plus three publicly available specifications (PASs) for the new regulated roles of building safety manager, principal designer and principal contractor.
The documents will ensure professionals understand the competency requirements of anyone taking on these responsibilities, and provide a benchmark for the BSR to confirm that the right people with the right skills, knowledge and experience are carrying out safety-critical roles.
HSE is also supporting the Steering Group on Competence for Building a Safer Future, or Competence Steering Group, and its 13 working groups, to devise and implement competency frameworks for the various other roles required in the built environment – in particular those working on HRBs, such as fire engineers and designers or those procuring services and supplying products.
This work is rightly led by the building control profession and supported by the HSE, to ensure that clear competency requirements are in place and understood. This will increase professionals' skills, knowledge and experience.
The Building Safety Bill includes proposals for a committee drawn from a wide range of industries, including the building control profession, to take a statutory role in assessing, analysing and setting strategic direction for built environment competency provision. HSE has also established an interim industry competence committee ahead of the legislation.
Accountability doesn't end when a building is constructed: the Hackitt Review identified the need to consider the whole life cycle from design and planning through to occupation and beyond, and to manage the occupied building actively.
The new regime looks to introduce checks and balances throughout the life of a building. There will be a golden thread of documentation to record all changes to an HRB, with a responsible owner retaining these and keeping them up to date.
The legislation will make sure there is clear accountability from the start, with hard stops in place to halt a construction project if safety and proper standards of construction are not engrained in the building. The BSR will, if necessary, take robust and immediate enforcement action where significant risks are not being properly managed.
For HRBs, the ultimate regulatory responsibility will lie with the BSR. However, significant regulatory decisions on the gateways and safety case assessments will be supported by a multidisciplinary team from the BSR, fire rescue services, local authorities and other experts, as appropriate, which will have the benefit of local knowledge. We see this as being key to the effective operation of the regime.
These teams will have terms of engagement and be trained in the required protocols for inspection of buildings under the scope of the legislation. For occupied buildings, their point of contact will normally be the building safety manager.
Although we await the passage of the Building Safety Bill, we know enough about what the regime will look like to begin planning and putting the necessary infrastructure in place for the BSR.
Progress in establishing the BSR over the past 15 months has been significant. HSE has worked with partners in industry, government, local authorities, fire and rescue services, residents and other stakeholders to lay the foundations for the new regime.
HSE has also been working with early adopters and some housing providers to gain insights and develop principles that will help organisations understand what will be required if they need to prepare a safety case.
We've also set up interim resident engagement and competency panels, and HSE is actively engaging with industry partners and professional organisations to prepare them for the changes coming and ensure a safer future for HRBs in England. We would also welcome your views as RICS members.