We need to design, commission and build differently, but fire risk doesn’t end at completion – far from it
In his final weeks as housing minister before being moved in the most recent Brexit reshuffle, Dominic Raab suggested that most MPs probably hadn’t read Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations. It’s a question worth reflecting on.
Of the many people involved in shaping our built environment, how many have looked beyond the headlines? There’s been a focus on combustible cladding and much discussion, rightly, of how buildings should be designed, commissioned and built with better sharing of information between parties – the “golden thread”.
But looking beyond the narrow set of implications for individual organisations, Hackitt calls for a wholesale change in mindset and behaviour; both intangible things that are not easily put into a project plan or spreadsheet but are hugely influential in the way we go forward.
We need to design, commission and build differently, but fire risk doesn’t end at completion – far from it.
Safety beyond construction
Alongside design and enforcement of standards, how a building is occupied and operated is critical to fire safety.
The way we manage buildings, make changes to them, and how residents use their homes all has an impact on risk. This complex interaction is at the heart of Dame Hackitt’s desire to see a whole-building approach to fire safety.
Records on newly-built high rise residential buildings must be readily available throughout the lifecycle of a building
Once a building is complete, responsibility for safety is handed over to the building owner or superior landlord in their role as dutyholder. As regulation is shaped, it is highly likely that these dutyholders will see their responsibilities become clearer and more rigorous.
The whole supply chain will therefore need to step up to provide the information and professional advice to allow building owners to fulfil their obligations.
The golden thread must continue beyond completion. Records on newly-built high rise residential buildings (HRRBs) must be readily available throughout the lifecycle of a building. They will need to be updated when major refurbishments happen, providing better labelling and traceability of systems and products, and all documentation on performance.
The role of the property manager will therefore fundamentally change. More than ever, managers must provide a crucial point of connection between those who develop buildings and those who occupy them.
The golden thread is for everyone
Managers need to ensure that the golden thread of accurate building information continues through a building’s lifetime, as it is operated, maintained and adapted. But they also need to ensure that the thread extends to residents.
Some of this is routine but crucial work: providing clear and accessible risk information for residents; ensuring emergency protocols are in place and understood; frequently checking communal areas for risks and testing equipment.
More challenging are those areas where we need residents to actively co-operate or adjust their behaviour – from clamping down on unsafe practices such as wedging open fire doors or leaving hazardous material in hallways, to providing guidance to residents on how their own contractors and handymen should work.
Better collaboration and information sharing is not always a straightforward task. It requires a major collective effort from all parts of the sector and behavioural change from building owners, their advisers and suppliers, and residents too.
But guided by Dame Hackitt’s report and with stronger regulation from Government, it is possible to implement the golden thread and hopefully ensure that a tragedy such as Grenfell Tower is the last we see in modern Britain.
Mark Varley is head of health and safety at FirstPort