With the Building Safety Act looming, there are fears the industry lacks the skills required by the new duty-holder roles. But one housing group has seized the initiative, and is training up its own building safety managers. Neil Gerrard reports.
Shortly before the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster, in last month’s CM, CIOB past president and chair of its quality commission Paul Nash issued a warning to construction: Too many organisations were acting too slowly to develop competencies for the new duty-holder roles that will come in with the Building Safety Act.
Under official plans, the Building Safety Regulator will oversee the safety of all multi-occupied residential buildings of 18m or more in height, or more than six storeys. It will also have responsibility for a new duty-holder regime operating over a building’s lifetime, with greater onus on designers and contractors to explain how they are managing safety risks.
With hundreds of companies owning buildings expected to fall into the scope of the regime, there’s expected to be a need for thousands of building safety managers (BSMs), appointed to manage the fire and structural risks. “And yet many organisations appear to be waiting for the Building Safety Act to arrive before preparing,” Nash warned.
However, that is not the case with Trafford Housing Trust, a housing association responsible for managing almost 9,000 homes for social and affordable rent in north-west England, which was acquired last year by L&Q. Trafford, in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations following the Grenfell fire, has established a new building safety team.
Iain Wallace, who joined Trafford Housing Trust as director of property services just prior to the tragedy, explains how and why the new team was formed.
“The terrible events at Grenfell reinforced my view that we needed a complete rethink around building safety, and that we had to really embrace the recommendations of Dame Judith’s independent review,” he says.
“The report rang true with some of the issues I was already trying to resolve, so we brought in external experts such as Brad Walker from Fire Strategy Services to advise and work alongside us to produce robust plans to revise our approach to building and fire safety.”
The result has been the trust’s appointment of two building safety managers, who it is training up to ensure they have chartered status with the CIOB.
It was through this process that conversations started with the CIOB about creating a course that would focus specifically on providing the education necessary for a building safety manager. The qualification aims to provide the managers with the knowledge and skills to take on increased responsibility for fire safety management.
“We’re sharing best practice with the industry; this new building safety approach is an integral part of fire safety… It’s vital we get it right.”
Iain Wallace, Trafford Housing Trust
Meanwhile, Trafford has established a response team to triage and manage anticipated new fire safety works, as well as forging stronger ties with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS). This has led to fire safety works to help protect the trust’s buildings.
Wallace says: “Having a great relationship with the fire service is a huge help, and it’s also a prime example of the housing sector and construction industry working collaboratively.
“The new building safety team builds on this. As well as ensuring compliance with statutory obligations and government objectives, the team will manage the maintenance and testing programmes for fire, asbestos, gas, electric, legionella and lifts. They will also manage the trust’s new fire risk management strategy.”
With competency a key issue identified as part of the independent review into Building Regulations and fire safety, the trust worked with Rosalind Thorpe, associate director – education and standards at the CIOB, and its own fire safety manager, to develop a new building safety manager diploma. The new qualification aims to look at an industry-wide solution to make buildings and their residents safer.
Wallace says: “Using a modular system allowed us to add elements to the course as and when new guidance and information was published on building safety. The finalisation of the course will come about following the inclusion of the findings and recommendations from working group 8 [tasked by Hackitt with creating the building safety manager role, and determining the competences necessary], and this includes a bespoke module on fire safety, which will enable them to take on more fire safety responsibilities.”
Diploma in Building Safety Management
The new Diploma in Building Safety Management comprises a suite of modules that will be available as standalone modules suitable for a range of duty-holder and existing occupations to develop the skills and knowledge to work on in-scope buildings and as a full diploma for those moving into a building safety manager role.
These modules will be placed on the Regulated Qualifications Register in 2020 as publicly available qualifications, after which they will be accessible to a wider audience of training providers in the UK.
The CIOB’s Rosalind Thorpe worked with Trafford Housing Trust to develop the new diploma. “It is important to provide learning routes into the new duty-holder roles as well as upskilling construction professionals to provide assurance of the knowledge and competence of anyone working on in-scope buildings,” she said.
The trust will now work towards the course getting diploma status, accredited to level six (the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree), and its two building safety managers will be the first to complete the course.
“We’re sharing best practice with the industry: this new building safety approach is an integral part of fire safety, and we now consider that fire safety is the biggest part of risk management of a building, taking into account likelihood and frequency. It’s vital we get it right,” Wallace says.
Tony Hunter, assistant chief fire officer with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), agrees.
“This is a great example of joint working between a housing association and GMFRS,” he says. “Our regular meetings and discussions were always open, honest and transparent, and driven by a genuine desire to create a safer environment for our residents and reduce the impact of fires on the environment. Trafford Housing Trust’s ways of working have significantly improved the management of fire safety across a number of sites, and we would encourage other housing providers to adopt them as best practice.”
New safety regime
The BSM role, one of the key duty-holder roles under the new building safety regime (see box) is still evolving, but competent building safety managers are expected to be able to fulfil a number of roles and responsibilities. They will have to work in a fluid environment that will include tasks like the co-ordination of the building’s compliance programme such as fire equipment, portable appliance testing, alarms, legionella and any other compliance works.
The building safety approach must also see the implementation and co-ordination of a fire risk management system, which includes fire evacuation and security arrangements within a building to ensure a safe working environment, including good housekeeping and the management of fire risk assessments. Managers must also compile and contribute to internal policies, procedures and systems, while ensuring that all relevant aspects of health and safety legislation and Building Regulations are adhered to.
Despite the complex set of tasks involved, Wallace says that since the new building safety manager roles have been introduced, the trust is already seeing improvements: “Following the implementation of the BSMs, the results already speak for themselves. We are seeing a reduction in risk, and an improved ability to respond quickly and both deal with and allocate issues via the building safety team.”
Trafford Housing Trust has also become the first organisation in the UK to achieve a new British Standard in fire safety – the recently introduced BS 9997 – awarded after its fire risk management systems passed a series of inspections.
Meanwhile, its parent L&Q, which sits on the government’s ‘early adopters’ steering group, is working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to trial proposals from the new building safety regime. L&Q told CM this included: instituting development gateways; developing building safety cases and information required for the “golden thread”; and engaging with residents in different ways about building safety.
What are the duty-holder roles?
The duty-holder roles in the construction and refurbishment of buildings in scope under the planned new building safety regime are:
- the client;
- the principal designer;
- the principal contractor;
All duty-holders during the design and construction phase will be required to:
- cooperate and share information with the Building Safety Regulator;
- ensure compliance with Building Regulations;
- comply with the specific regulatory requirements imposed upon them; and
- ensure they and the people they employ are competent to do the work they are undertaking.
Once the building is occupied, the ‘accountable person’ (effectively the owner) is a duty-holder. They will be legally responsible for ensuring that they understand fire and structural risks and must take appropriate steps and actions to mitigate and manage these. They will also be required to appoint a competent building safety manager, approved under a system agreed by the Building Safety Regulator, who will also be a duty-holder.