'Building Safety Act will not create two models'

Rachel Davidson of BESA
Rachel Davidson of BESA

A newly-formed BESA advisory group says new legislation will transform all aspects of project delivery and business management.

The construction industry will not be able to operate a two-track system under new building safety legislation, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

The early focus of the Building Safety Act is on higher-risk buildings (HRBs) which are primarily high-rise multi-use and residential, but this does not mean all other work can carry on as before, the association warned.

Following the first meeting of BESA’s newly-formed Building Safety Act Advisory Group (BSAAG), members agreed that the requirements of the legislation would transform all aspects of project delivery and business management. While Tier One contractors are leading the process of change, they will expect all members of their project supply chains to adopt new ways of working.

The group’s chair Nick Mead said: “This is transformational legislation that will impact everyone working in building services engineering.

The Regulator’s eye is now firmly fixed on HRBs but that does not mean we can ignore the implications for other projects.

“The Act has already led to fundamental changes to other regulatory standards, including Approved Document B, which applies to all projects, and there are a lot more to come. It is also influencing competency requirements across the board, so this is not something that anyone can avoid whether they work on HRBs or not.”

Nick, who is Technical Director of MEICA Systems at Laing O’Rourke, said clients and Tier Ones would expect contractors working in their supply chains to step up to the challenges posed by the Act.

“No construction business could possibly consider trying to operate two delivery models,” he said. “Why would we? These new rules have been put in place to address decades- old safety and quality problems so it is in all our interests to comply and drive much-needed culture change across the whole industry.”

The advisory group was established by BESA’s new Director of Specialist Knowledge, Rachel Davidson, to agree priorities for the building services contracting sector and help the association create focused guidance to help firms of all sizes adapt to the new requirements.

The association already disseminates news and updates about the Act via its online information hub and plans to considerably enhance that service, with details specifically tailored for building services companies and individual engineers steered by the advisory group.

“It was clear from our first meeting that there is an urgent need to simplify information around the Act,” said Rachel. “There is a danger that some firms will be tempted to ignore the legislation unless they can access simple guidance which is directly relevant to them and their roles within project teams.

“The group was also very clear that it wants to see better collaboration across the industry, particularly between trade and professional bodies, so we can ensure the advice and guidance we provide is fit for purpose and up to date.”

The Regulator will be paying particular attention to technical and professional competence to ensure work can be completed in compliance with the Building Regulations – and this will mean contractors will have to provide considerably more evidence of both individual and organisational competence than they have previously, Rachel added.

She added that the Regulator had already indicated it expected the industry to “own its responsibilities” by driving improvements in the competency culture. Tier Ones,in particular, will be expected to use their procurement processes to embed culture change in their supply chains.

Contractors of all sizes should also prepare themselves for significant changes to contract terms that reflect the new responsibilities defined by the Act, and the group advised that firms may need to take legal and commercial advice.

Facilities managers will also play a crucial role because of the clear implications for the ongoing safe operation of buildings, which should have already been addressed by the time projects are handed over.

“All of us must get into the mindset that this is about any building not just high-rise,” said Nick, who is also a former CIBSE President. “BESA is in a strong position to bring all the relevant information together, and make sure this does not become intimidating for the smaller firms.”

Opportunity

Nick is encouraging everyone in the supply chain to look at this as a business opportunity. “If you can show that you are ready for the changes and are embracing them, you will be in pole position when it comes to contracts being awarded,” he said.

BESA has also welcomed the announcement that a group of the largest contractors, developers and housebuilders had pledged to work with the rest of the industry to improve construction product quality in line with the requirements of the Act.

Barratt Developments, Berkeley Homes, Mace Group, Morgan Sindall, Murphy, Persimmon Homes, and Skanska UK all pledged their support for the Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI), which means they must ensure the suppliers and manufacturers they work with agreed quality standards.

The code is designed to ensure that products meet performance claims and are supported by technical competency so that clients, specifiers, and users will only accept CCPI compliant products for their projects.

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