The British Safety Council response to the Independent Review of Fire and Building Regulations

On 14 June 2017 a catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower in London took the lives of 72 people and robbed hundreds of others of their homes and possessions.

In the months following the tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt was commissioned to lead a forward-looking inquiry to evaluate the adequacy of the regulations related to fire safety and building standards.

An interim review published in December 2017 identified that the existing system was fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose, and committed to a further phase of work to formulate recommendations for change. On 17 May 2018, the full and final review was published, making far reaching recommendations for change.

The key recommendations are as follows:

  • A new regulatory framework
  • A new joint competent authority
  • A mandatory incident reporting mechanism
  • Rigorous and demanding duty holder roles and responsibilities
  • A series of gateway points to strengthen regulatory oversight
  • A stronger change control process
  • A single, more streamlined, regulatory route to oversee building standards
  • Rigorous enforcement powers
  • A clear and identifiable dutyholder
  • A safety case
  • Clearer rights and obligations for residents
  • A regulator for the whole of the building in relation to fire and structural safety in occupation
  • Providing reassurance and recourse for residents
  • An overarching body to provide oversight of competence requirements
  • Ownership of technical guidance rests with industry
  • A package of regulations and guidance that is simpler to navigate but that genuinely reflects the level of complexity
  • A more effective testing regime with clearer labelling and product traceability
  • Obligating the creation of a digital record for high rise residential buildings
  • Tackling poor procurement practices
  • Ensuring continuous improvement and best practice learning through membership of an international body.

In a statement to the House of Commons, the secretary of state for housing and local government, James Brokenshaw, broadly accepted the recommendations made in the review.  He committed to bringing forward new legislation to enact change, and additionally to specific consultation on elements including a ban on flammable cladding on high rise residential buildings and amendments to key guidance documents.

Members of Parliament and key stakeholders have until 25 July to comment on the recommendations made by the Hackitt review. The government will then develop and publish its formal response and a plan for implementation of accepted actions.

On 14 June 2017 a catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower in London took the lives of 72 people

Our response

Key principles

The British Safety Council welcomes publication of this review, and acknowledges the work involved in completing such a wide-ranging review in a tight time period.

Throughout the review, recommendations draw on principles established under the Health and Safety at Work Act. We welcome this and encourage the government to extrapolate this robust, effective and proven regime to inform the developing theme of residdents’ safety. We feel that the adoption of a risk-based goal setting model is entirely appropriate and will underpin proportionality and flexibility in the regime.

We appreciate that it is sensible to roll out any new regime gradually, and that high rise residential buildings represent the area of greatest risk.  However, we urge the government to set an ambitious timeline for a second phase of work, which will swiftly extend this to cover other multi-occupied residential buildings, particularly those housing vulnerable individuals, and to institutional buildings. Ultimately, we would like to see the proposed regime extended to apply proportionately and consistently across all types of buildings.

Regulatory framework

The British Safety Council welcomes the recommendation to establish a joint competent authority (JCA) to oversee fire and building safety. However, we are concerned about the practicalities of the proposed approach, which would require collaborative working across three separate regulatory functions and three responsible government departments, particularly as resources are already stretched. It will be essential that any new body is efficient and effective and appropriately held to account.

We are also concerned about the proposal that the body should be funded through a cost-recovery programme. While proactive charging regimes have been successfully applied in some sectors, there is widespread feeling that HSE’s fee for intervention programme has significantly damaged relationships with dutyholders and established a ‘parking ticket’ approach to regulation. We accept that a source of funding will be required for the new body, but this would be difficult to apply in an industry where roles and accountabilities are somewhat opaque. We urge the government to consider direct funding rather than cost recovery in order to expedite implementation.

We are also concerned that a chargeable regime could introduce new non-regulatory burdens or ‘blue tape’.

Systems-based approach to risk management

The British Safety Council welcomes the recommendation that a system-based approach should be applied to the safety of buildings throughout their whole lifecycle.

We welcome the consideration of fire prevention at every stage of design, and a layered approach to protection.  Collaboration across stakeholder groups will be essential to avoid the unintended consequences associated with siloed thinking. We suggest that there is learning to be found in the barrier-based thinking model developed in the oil and gas sector following the Piper Alpha disaster (The explosion of the Piper Alpha oil platform off the coast of Aberdeen killed 167 workers on 6 July 1988).

Outcome-based approach to building safety

The British Safety Council welcomes the proposed outcome-based model for building safety. This type of model is well established in workplace safety and promotes flexibility, proportionality and adaptability in the regulatory framework.

We agree that competence is key to effective implementation of an outcome-based model, and call for more information on how this might be achieved in the context of building safety.

Design, construction and refurbishment

The British Safety Council welcomes suggestions that any new regime should mirror that set out in the Construction Design and Management Regulations (CDM). This is established, effective and understood across the building sector, and addresses many of the issues identified in the review. As such, it would provide a robust context for many of the recommendations made by the review.

We welcome the recommendation that there needs to be clarity around the identification of dutyholders at each stage of the building lifecycle, together with their associated responsibilities and accountabilities.

We further welcome the proposal for a digital record and a fire and emergency file to accompany every building throughout its lifecycle. This will provide a single point of reference, and should be linked to the building safety file and operation and maintenance manual, which are already existing requirements. We are, however, concerned about the mechanism for implementation and would welcome more information on this point.

We support the proposed gateway approach to moving through the planning, construction and occupation phases of the building lifecycle, and the associated requirements for record keeping and change management. We agree that, applied proportionately, this would help to ensure appropriate consideration of fire and building safety in upgrade and refurbishment operations too.

We welcome the independent oversight of the process by the ‘right’ regulator at each stage of the process, and involvement of fire and rescue authorities at relevant gateway review points, but would welcome greater clarity about the implementation of this recommendation.

We do have significant concerns about the effectiveness of ‘self-certification’ schemes for building standards and urge consideration of appropriate regulatory oversight in this important area.

We agree that the sanctions regime needs to be strengthened as part of the new framework. We support the application of a model similar to that set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act. This is well established, effective and understood by stakeholders. We propose that the sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences should also be extended to cover fire and building safety. This will provide context and consistency, and help to underline the significance of the duties imposed by the new regime.

Occupation and maintenance

The British Safety Council agrees that the proposed regime should be extended to cover operation and maintenance as well as design and construction of buildings, to promote a consistent lifecyle approach to fire and building safety.

The proposed safety case approach appears to promote proportionality, and we support the principle that reasonable efforts should be made to continue improvements to safety throughout a building’s lifecycle, wherever this is reasonably practicable.

It appears sensible that the process for identification of dutyholders, roles and responsibilities should apply to the occupation phase as well as to design and construction. We support the proposal for a clearly identified ‘building safety manager’ to oversee day-to-day management liaison with residents. However, it would need to be clear that accountability remains with the dutyholder and cannot be delegated to this post holder.

Residents’ voice

The British Safety Council agrees that everyone has the right to be safe and feel safe in their home. It is absolutely correct that residents should be at the very heart of the process that assures this, but steps must also be taken to allow all residents to have a voice in this regard.

We welcome the recommendation for a published engagement strategy to apply throughout the lifecycle of each building, and that this should include accountability of residents in respect of their actions and a duty to cooperate with the dutyholder. There are parallels here to sections in the Health and Safety at Work Act.

There should also be a mechanism to provide residents with access to information, advice and support, and building safety information should be made publicly available.

We support the principle that funding should be provided for bodies which support residents’ safety and promote culture change, but are concerned that the review does not identify a source for this funding, and request further information on this point.

Competence

The British Safety Council agrees that the principles of competence will be essential in implementing the proposals resulting from this review.

The recommendations relating to leadership and cross-sector collaboration to share knowledge, learning and experience are sound, and there is strong precedent in the health and safety sector. The report draws parallels with the high-hazard sector and we agree that this is useful and relevant.

Proven competence and continuing professional development will be essential in delivering the proposed regime. This needs to be applied to all dutyholders, including regulators and those providing consultancy and training. We agree that this needs to be delivered against a consistent framework that applies across the various specialisms, and we feel that a consistent approach to oversight will be essential here too. However, it is important to ensure that this does not introduce non-regulatory burdens and blue tape for dutyholders.

Guidance and monitoring

The British Safety Council agrees that robust, clear and concise guidance is an essential support to an outcome- based regulatory model. However, we have significant concerns about the practicability and effective quality assurance, if this is to be solely the responsibility of industry bodies.

We suggest that it would be more effective to adopt a model similar to the one in place for health and safety, where regulations are produced by government, approved codes of practice by the regulator and guidance by the regulator in collaboration with industry stakeholders. This supports consistency, independence and application of an established review process to promote ongoing relevance and continuity of advice.

The review makes few references to monitoring and metrics. This is to be expected at this stage of development.  But as detail is built around the recommendations, it will be essential to ensure that this information is added to enable tracking of implementation and effectiveness.

Products

The British Safety Council supports the assertion that there is a requirement for a more transparent and concise regime for product testing, labelling, specification and traceability. We agree that this should focus on the safety of the entire system as fitted, rather than considering components in isolation, and provide clear and concise guidance on correct application.

We feel that the development of such an important scheme should be led by government and regulators, in collaboration with industry, and support the recommendation for an associated surveillance regime.

Golden thread of building information

The British Safety Council supports the call for a digital record to serve as a lifelong log for each building, acting as a single point of assured building related information.

We are not qualified to comment on the detail of content or specification of such a system; however, accessibility and ease of use will be absolutely key to effectiveness, and we do feel strongly that a single system should be adopted universally to promote consistency in content, format and accessibility, and that the information should be made publicly available. The system employed for records held by Companies’ House is a good example of an effective solution.

We do have some concerns about the implementation of this recommendation. The public sector has a poor record for roll-out of large-scale technology projects, and care should be taken to apply previous learning to inform this work.

International examples

It is, of course, important to ensure that lessons are learned from safety failures that occur overseas, and the British Safety Council supports the proposal for interaction with international building safety groups. However, we feel that it is also important to establish an equivalent sovereign group here in the UK.

We suggest the creation of a high-level forum similar to those in Australia, New Zealand and Norway, which are described in the report. This should be led at ministerial level, and involve senior representatives from all key stakeholder groups. 

Combustible material in cladding systems

Following publication of the review, there has been much discussion about the fact that it does not recommend a ban on the ACM cladding material used at Grenfell Tower.

To impose a ban on this one type of cladding would drive compliance, but only in relation to this one product. It would do nothing to pre-empt problems not yet identified with other materials, or types of installation. 

The review actually goes further than this. It proposes an entirely new, clearer and more stringent system for testing and certification of materials, not in isolation, but as part of the system in which they are to be used. This has the potential to proactively identify issues so that preventative action can be taken.

In respect to existing buildings and those under refurbishment, the review recommends the application of a safety-case system, and a duty to review fire and building safety and seek to make improvements so far as is reasonably practicable throughout the lifecycle of the building. So, rather than proposing a short-term fix to a single issue, the review proposes a system-level adjustment that should prevent a situation in which any combustible product could be included in a building in a way that might compromise fire or building safety. It also proposes a regulatory system to police compliance.

The British Safety Council supports a consultation regarding a ban on the identified cladding as a short-term measure that will provide peace of mind for residents and those affected by the Grenfell tragedy.

We do however believe that the regime change proposed in the Hackett review is the right solution to address the systemic failures that allowed this cladding to be installed in the particular configuration used at Grenfell, thus preventing as yet unknown issues from becoming serious hazards in the future.

Conclusion

We welcome the publication of this important review and note that it is the culmination of a significant research and engagement project. The recommendations are ambitious and far reaching, but on balance we feel that they set the right tone for a new regulatory system that will be fit for purpose in 21st century Britain.

We await the government response to the recommendations of the Hackitt review, and are committed to supporting the process of implementation in any way that we can.

The fire at Grenfell Tower was truly horrific and we must all do whatever we can to ensure that such a situation can never occur again.

Hackitt review available here