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Stepping up to the Building Safety Act

The Building Safety Act (BSA) is the most significant change to building safety in decades and we’re starting to see its impact on the high-rise, residential sector.

With just over 12 months to go until the Building Safety Regulator starts calling buildings in for assessment, those impacted need to turn their attention to compliance and getting ahead so they can respond within the 28-day deadline.

21 March 2023 | 4 min read
Pete Hutchison

UK

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Pete Hutchison, Operational Director, RPS with text reading Building Safety Act

What is the Building Safety Act, and who does it apply to?

The Building Safety Act puts a legal responsibility on the owner/maintainer (the Accountable Person) of a high-rise residential building to demonstrate to the regulator that the building is acceptably safe to occupy.

This is to be done through a Building Safety Case and Safety Case Report.

What are the biggest challenges for those affected by the Building Safety Act?

Gathering the body of evidence required to support the claims being made in the Building Safety Case.

This is going to involve fire and structural engineering specialists at a minimum. It’ll also very likely need to include mechanical and electrical/lift engineers in a technical evaluation of the building, to demonstrate that fire and structural collapse risks are appropriately managed.

What do you think are the common misconceptions around the Building Safety Act?

That the production of the Building Safety Case Report is a simple process that merely requires the presentation of existing fire management documents. This couldn’t be further from the truth…

A Building Safety Case report needs to present the story as to why a building is safe for residential occupation. This shouldn’t be overly complex or go into minute detail, but it should have a narrative about the evidence of fire and structural safety, presented in a manner that is easily accessible and readable to all—the regulator, the Accountable Person, and the residents.

Who is an Accountable Person and what are their responsibilities?

The Accountable Person is a named, responsible individual who is required to assess all building and safety risks in an occupied high-rise building and take all reasonable steps to prevent such risks materialising and to minimise their impact if the risks do occur.

The AP is effectively responsible for ensuring that the building can be safely occupied based on its characteristics.

Their responsibilities:

  • Register the building and apply for a building assessment certificate
  • Assess fire and structural safety risks and keep them under review
  • Prepare the safety case report
  • Comply with mandatory occurrence reporting requirements
  • Prepare a Resident’s Engagement Strategy and keep it under review
  • Keep and update prescribed information about the buildings.

We’re seeing many organisations find it challenging to nominate an Accountable Person, as many seem to be struggling with the concept of naming someone who will have the responsibilities defined in the BSA and will therefore be the first port of call in terms of legal liability.

Graphic showing RPS' four stages to BSA compliance: gap analysis, closing the gap, developing the safety case, and safety management and remediation

Why is achieving building safety compliance so complex?

As noted by Dame Judith Hackitt in her report on Grenfell, a building has to be considered a system of systems.

Building safety is not merely about a fire evacuation plan or compliance with fire regulations for fire doors and extinguishers. It’s a complex interaction between physical elements such as fire, structural, mechanical and electrical engineering. But building safety is also about an effective safety management system and, significantly, the interaction of people with all these systems—be they involved in construction, maintenance, management or the residents themselves.

Assumptions made in one area may have a significant effect on another aspect of building safety. A pertinent example of this is the issue raised over Grenfell in relation to the fire evacuation policy, and the interaction between a ‘stay put’ approach being assumed to be effective when confronted with the scale of fire experienced.

All higher-risk buildings are required to be registered with the new Building Safety Regulator from April 2023—how can RPS help?

This is a fast-approaching deadline. The scale of work involved in developing a suitable safety case report shouldn’t be considered something that can be pulled together at the last minute. It will take significant effort and require the engagement of those that own/manage buildings to provide specific information and ‘local knowledge’ to the relevant technical specialists to develop the safety case that shows why a residential building is safe to occupy.

An Accountable Person can find all of the services they need under one roof at RPS.  

Infographic diagram of RPS Building Safety Act services

What advice would you give to anyone looking to respond to the Building Safety Act?

  1. Don't underestimate the requirements of the BSA and the responsibilities it puts on the AP
  2. Do give yourself plenty of time to develop your safety case and report
  3. Do engage with organisations that have a pedigree in regulated safety case regimes.