Health and Safety Help! - Building Safety Bill – the biggest change to building safety after nearly 40 years

11 August 2020

20 July this year saw the publication of draft legislation titled the Building Safety Bill (the Bill) that the Government describes as the biggest change to building safety for nearly 40 years.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy exposed serious failings across the whole system of building and managing high-rise homes. As a result, Dame Judith Hackitt carried out an independent review of building regulations and fire safety to understand the causes of the fire. The review concluded that the whole system needed major reform and that residents’ safety needed to be a greater priority through the entire life cycle of a building – from design and construction, through to when people are living in their homes.

The Bill brings in new regulations in the wake of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire and the subsequent report by Dame Judith Hackitt into the systemic failings. If and when the Bill is enacted, it will improve building and fire safety, so that people will be and feel safer in their homes.

The Bill has been published to enable consultation and scrutiny before it is introduced to Parliament; it will be improved and amended as it passes through the stages to become an Act of Parliament.

What does this mean for residents?

The Bill will ensure that there will always be someone responsible for keeping residents safe in high rise buildings – which are those that are 18 metres and above. This person, the ‘Accountable Person’ will also have to listen and respond to residents’ concerns and ensure their voices are heard.

Residents have helped to develop the safety proposals through engagement groups; under the new law, people living in high rise buildings will be empowered to challenge inaction from the building owner. Residents and leaseholders will have access to vital safety information about their building and new complaints handling requirements will be introduced to make sure that effective action is taken where concerns are raised.

To oversee all this and make sure the Accountable Person is carrying out their duties properly, there will also be a new national regulator for building safety, the Building Safety Regulator (BSR), within the Health and Safety Executive. It will ensure that high rise buildings and the people who live in them are being kept safe and the BSR will have new powers to raise and enforce higher standards of safety and performance across all buildings. The BSR will appoint a panel of residents who will have a voice in the
development of its work.

What does this mean for the industry?

The Bill will make sure that those responsible for the safety of residents are accountable for any mistakes and must put them right. When established, the BSR will enforce new rules and take action against those who break them.

The BSR will have three main functions:

  1. to oversee the safety and standard of all buildings
  2. to directly assure the safety of higher-risk buildings; and
  3. to improve the competence of people responsible for managing and overseeing building work.

The new rules contained in the Bill, will apply when buildings are being designed, constructed and then later occupied. At each of these three stages, it will be clear who is responsible for managing the potential risks and what is required to move to the next stage enabling a ‘golden thread’ of vital information about the building to be gathered over its lifetime.

When residents move into a building that falls under the new set of rules, it will need to be registered with the Building Safety Regulator and a Building Assurance Certificate applied for. Furthermore, the Accountable Person will need to conduct and maintain a safety case risk assessment for the building and appoint a Building Safety Manager to oversee it day-to-day.

Other information surrounding the Bill

The Bill includes a new ‘building safety charge’ to give leaseholders greater transparency around the costs incurred in maintaining a safe building – with numerous powers deliberately included to limit the costs that can be re-charged to leaseholders.

It should also be noted that the Government are not waiting for this legislation to take action and is ensuring residents are safe in the interim. They have stated that they are committed to supporting residents in high rise buildings with the removal of unsafe cladding and have provided £1.6bn of funding and support to expedite this.

Finally, the Home Office is also publishing a consultation paper that sets out proposals to implement the recommendations from phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry that require a change in law. The consultation will also look at strengthening fire safety in all regulated buildings in England.

If you have any concerns regarding the Building Safety Bill; please contact the Regulatory and Corporate Defence Team who will be happy to assist you.

This article is from the summer 2020 edition of Health and Safety Help!, our newsletter for professionals tasked with health and safety matters. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at August 2020.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at August 2020.