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“Every building should be treated as high risk” asserts BESA

19 February 2024

MANY CONTRACTORS are still ignoring safety regulations despite repeated warnings that measures introduced by the Building Safety Act 2022 are already in place and affect every project. That’s according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

BESA is concerned that firms do not realise the Building Safety Act has already altered the regulations that apply to all construction work and not just higher-risk/high-rise residential buildings (HRBs) and, therefore, could face potential prosecution.

While the Building Safety Act itself is primarily focused on HRBs, it has already changed many elements of the existing fire safety and building regulations landscapes, including the supporting Approved Documents that apply to all projects. Further, there’s going to be the introduction of secondary legislation that affects all building work.

“Anyone sitting back and waiting to see what happens is going to be in a lot of trouble,” affirmed Nick Mead, chair of BESA’s Building Safety Act Advisory Group. “The regulator is looking for proof that involved parties are complying with regulations now and that the individuals and teams working on a project are competent to carry out the specific tasks assigned to them.”

Mead asserted that the industry should be braced for a high-profile prosecution under the Building Safety Act as the regulator “will be keen to make a point”.

Change management

“The simplest thing is to treat every building as high risk,” explained Mead. “The Building Safety Act has already significantly changed the rules. Every building occupant deserves to be safe. Our industry has become very lax in its record-keeping, particularly so around change management.”

Mead went on to state: “If you cannot provide proof of why a decision was made or that the work was carried out by a competent individuals, the regulator will not approve it.”

The Building Safety Act Advisory Group, which was set up to advise BESA members and other specialist contractors about the specific issues relating to the building services sector, has warned that MEP firms are facing particular scrutiny due to the relative complexity of their work and the “eagerness of many specifiers” to spread risks around their supply chains.

The Advisory Group has also warned contractors to be ready for a period of uncertainty as building control officers prepare to become part of a registered profession in April. There are estimated to be more than 4,000 individuals who must become certified as competent to work as building inspectors under the new safety regime. They have until October to complete the required assessments and registration process.

BESA has suggested that members are already reporting considerable delays with an estimated 60% of ‘in-scope’ projects held up at planning Gateway One, with only a handful even reaching the Gateway Two stage.

“Many inspectors are adopting a ‘no risk’ approach as a result of confusion over the new rules, while the least risky approach is not to proceed,” asserted Mead, who’s technical director of MEICA Systems at Laing O’Rourke. “The whole environment could become messy if some projects have to be reassessed at a later stage due to them having been signed-off by unregistered building control officers.”

Leaving ‘build and design’ behind

Rachel Davidson, BESA’s director of specialist knowledge, believes it’s hardly surprising that there’s a degree of confusion as the industry tries to adapt to the new regulations.

“We are trying to move away from the previously accepted approach of ‘build and design’ where it was all about rushing into projects and then trying to sort out the details later. We do know what needs to be done, but many contractors are sitting back and waiting to see what happens. That’s the riskiest approach.”

Davidson concluded: “Companies are only being asked to do what they should already have been doing before the Building Safety Act was brought forward, which is comply with existing regulations. What are people waiting for?”