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04 October 2021

After Grenfell

After Grenfell

On 14th June 2017, a devastating fire in Grenfell Tower left 72 of its residents dead. The investigation that followed exposed serious deficiencies in the way many high rise buildings are designed, constructed, refurbished and certified as safe for living. The key problem areas highlighted by the investigation were;

  • A lack of competency of all parties in understanding and addressing key fire safety issues 
  • Poor communications between the key development stakeholders 
  • A focus by stakeholders on compliance with minimum standards, instead of safety principles 

Creation of the Building Safety Bill

A detailed review of building regulations and fire safety in England led to the creation of the Building Safety Bill which was presented to the UK parliament in July 2021. The bill is aimed at ‘High Risk’ buildings; defined in the bill to include two or more dwellings or educational accommodation, and which meet the height condition of 18m or more in height or 7 or more storeys. Once passed, this bill will introduce new, enhanced building and fire safety regulations for all high rise buildings in England and Wales. 

Under the bill, new duties are enacted and will integrate strongly with existing roles and obligations under current safety legislation. Any breach of regulations may result in a conviction of up to 2 years in prison, and / or unlimited fines.

Introduced in the House of Commons in July 2021, it is expected to become law later this year.

Duties and Responsibilities outlined 

New duties and responsibilities proposed in the Building Safety Bill fall on a range of parties. Key duty holders will include the following:

  • Building Safety Regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (the equivalent of the Health and safety Authority in Ireland). 

- The Building Safety Regulator will be responsible for ensuring both the safety of people in and around buildings, and compliance with the new requirements and safety measures throughout all stages of design, construction, occupation and refurbishment of higher risk buildings.

- The regulator will also implement a new more stringent regulatory regime, promote increased competence among industry professionals and oversee performance systems for all buildings

  • An Accountable Person must be appointed by the building owner or leaseholder for higher risk buildings. 

- The Accountable Person will take on primary responsibility for identifying and rectifying building safety risks, ensuring that the safety standard for residents is maintained.

- They will also appoint a competent Building Safety Manager who is responsible for day to day operational safety.

Key Considerations

Once introduced, the new regulations will change, and in some cases challenge, many of the existing standards and processes for duty holders when it comes to construction of High Risk Buildings. These include; 

  • Duties under existing construction safety legislation will increase, including clients who commission construction projects, design safety co-ordinators (Principal Designer / PSDP,) designers and contractors. There will need to be an increased focus on the risk assessment process for all parties. 
  • Competency requirements will likely increase for duty holders on all high-risk development projects. Competency as defined extends to more than qualifications. It also refers to experience, training and practical knowledge. Duty holders will also be mindful of personal liability requirements under this new legislation.
  • Three fixed stages or ‘gateways’ are proposed for the design, construction and handover of higher risk categories of building construction. This will involve the submission of a Safety Case by the Accountable Person for each stage to the Building Regulator: 

Stage One; submission of a Fire Statement (with the planning application); 

Stage two; following commencement of construction, and 

Stage three; on building completion. This process will have a negative impact on construction programs, including works phasing. 

  • There will be a new system of approval for construction products and compliance with required standards.
  • There will likely be a much increased focus on the safety file prepared for each project.
  • While the existing bill is aimed at residential construction, it may be expanded to cover other sectors over time to include schools and hospitals, and likely other sectors.
  • Duties on clients who commission new buildings or works to existing infrastructure will need to examine their duties carefully, particularly in regard to information being provided. It is highly likely that client companies will be required to provide much more information up front when commissioning new projects 
  • How the new legislation will affect existing buildings needs further assessment. The appointment of Accountable Persons and Building Safety Managers for multi-occupied buildings will need to be clarified and managed – clarity is essential to avoid any misinterpretation of regulations.

Parallels between Ireland and UK

The construction safety legislation in Ireland and the UK is derived from the same original EU Directive, therefore there are strong parallels between the countries with regards to safety legislation and the duties imposed on all parties involved in construction projects. While there are some differences, the statutory duties on clients and designers in Ireland and the UK are broadly similar. These include clients who commission projects, designers and contractors. 

When it comes to best practice guidance on health and safety requirements, the Irish construction industry monitors and refers to UK standards on many issues, for example, asbestos, temporary works design, and construction.