In response to the tragic loss of life following a fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, then-communities secretary Sajid Javid and home secretary Amber Rudd commissioned an independent review of building regulations and fire safety, to be led by Dame Judith Hackitt. On 16 May 2018, Building a Safer Future, Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Final Report was published. In it, Hackitt urged a “radical rethink of the whole system and how it works”, claiming that the industry “has not reflected and learned for itself, nor looked to other sectors.”
The government subsequently issued its response on 18 December: Building a Safer Future – An Implementation Plan.
Here’s a brief overview of the key elements of the proposed new regime:
A more robust approach
The Hackitt report recommends a more robust approach to managing higher risk residential buildings (HRRBs). It involves the creation of a new Joint Competent Authority (JCA) comprising Local Authority Building Control, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive. Oversight of HRRBs will be provided through Local Authority Building Control as part of the JCA.
The government has accepted and is currently considering how to extend this regime to other multi-occupied residential and complex buildings. Although the report’s findings technically apply to buildings of over 10 storeys, it’s difficult to see a system of regulatory control that will end up specifying different requirements for those that fall under this height – e.g. eight or nine storeys.
Ongoing management, residents’ voice and transparency
One of the major recommendations accepted by the Government is the requirement to give residents access to essential fire safety information:
- Fire and emergency plans are to be required – currently working groups are considering what these should include, although we see these effectively as an extension of Article 11 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (Reg 10 Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 etc.)
- Tenants and residents must have access to this information digitally, outlining:
- Fire risk assessment
- Safety case – including details of risks, and how they are to be managed
- Resident Engagement Strategy
- Safety / Protection Layer information
- Maintenance and fire safety systems testing information
There will be a new duty on landlords to educate, influence and inspect to ensure residents meet their obligations as well as provide:
- Fire safety awareness training to residents; and
- A clear escalation processes for residents
There is a need, according to Dame Judith to develop a culture of engagement across the industry as well as ensure that a “golden thread” of information passed from owner to owner via an open, non-proprietary digital record system is adequately secured.
In addition, the recommendations include proposals for the requirement on landlords to appoint a competent Building Safety Manager.
Fire risk assessments
The Government have accepted the recommendations relating to improving fire risk assessments as well as competence with recommendations clearly suggesting:
- HRRBs must be assessed annually
- Pre-occupation fire risk assessments to form part of the “three gateways” plan should be undertaken. These are needed for those responsible for building safety to prove to the JCA that they’re in compliance
- Competency Framework for assessors to be part of an industry-wide initiative
- Only “competent persons” should be working on, designing, assessing and enforcing regulations on HRRBs. This will require the development of an industry led “competent person scheme / overarching body”
- Competence requirements need to be determined and addressed for building safety managers
- A safety case needs to be developed for each building with frequent review which sets out and ensures that the fire safety measures in place remain suitable and sufficient to maintain resident safety.
What this means
At Ark Workplace Risk, we believe this new regime will in time become the norm for all multi-occupied buildings. Clients should therefore start preparing now to ensure they have in place the systems and the capabilities needed to meet the stringent new requirements outlined in the Hackitt report and Implementation Plan. The alternative is to expose your organisation to potentially major reputational, legal and financial risk.
The most proactive landlords and buildings managers are already working on this area. In so doing, they will not only be ahead of the game in introducing the new approaches and cultural changes recommended by Dame Judith but will also have an opportunity to influence government thinking to get this right.