The Building Safety Act is described by government as 'the biggest improvement to building safety in nearly 40 years'. Its introduction is intended to provide clearer accountability for construction services and products and to close some compliance loopholes.
It is not the first initiative to promise a shake-up of the construction industry. In 1994, Sir Michael Latham's report Constructing the Team set out to transform the sector by trying to get the industry to change its culture from one of litigation to one of collaboration. Four years later, Sir John Egan headed up an industry task force to advise on how the industry could improve efficiency and quality in his report Rethinking Construction.
While laudable, these two initiatives both failed to bring about significant change. So why will the introduction of the Building Safety Act be any different? In short, because it is legally enforceable.
Dame Judith Hackitt's post-Grenfell report Building a Safer Future highlighted inadequate regulatory oversight and a failure to pursue enforcement as key failings in the construction sector. The recently introduced now extends criminal liability in relation to the design and construction process and building safety, not just for Higher-risk buildings (HRBs), but for all buildings.
Now, under the Building Safety Act, there is a legal obligation for all individuals and organisations to be competent to ensure compliance with the Building Regulations in both design and construction.
Failure to comply with the Building Regulations has been a criminal offence for over 40 years, but it has historically been difficult to hold individuals accountable. To overcome this, the Act introduces clearer definitions of accountability and extends criminal liability for breaches of Building Regulations, with offenders facing up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine. There is the potential for a further fine for each day the offence continues after the initial conviction and the Act also extends the time limit for bringing enforcement action for contravention of the Building Regulations from 12 months to 10 years.
At Knauf a key focus for the business is to deliver and maintain a competency model to fulfil the objectives of the Building Safety Act and the associated Code for Construction Product Information. Our processes and systems have been and developed and evolved to ensure they support the objectives of the new regulations.
For HRBs, the Act establishes a regime of dutyholders with legal obligations in respect to their duties in design, construction, refurbishment and operation. Where a dutyholder is a business, individuals within that organisation can be prosecuted where the breach was committed with their consent or as a result of their neglect.
The Act also introduces the role of Building Safety Regulator (BSR), as part of the Health and Safety Executive. The regulator's role is to oversee the safety and performance systems of all buildings in England and to manage the more stringent regulatory regime for HRBs.
As such, the BSR is now responsible for overseeing the inspection of HRBs during their design and construction and is empowered to issue both compliance and stop notices and authorise remedial works.
Compliance notices require a non-compliant issue to be rectified by a set date. Stop notices require work to be halted until a serious non-compliance issue is addressed. It is worth noting that that non-compliance relates to all of the Building Regulations and not just those elements that relate to fire safety.
The BSR's actions are discretionary, but it is likely that the regulator will focus on those whose actions could cause serious harm and repeat offenders in particular. Failure to adhere to either notice is a criminal offence with up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine. Again, there is the potential for a further fine for each day the offence continues after the initial conviction.
The Act also makes it a criminal offence to obstruct the Building Safety Regulator and creates criminal offences for failure of an Accountable Person to: register a higher-risk building and/or keep prescribed information in accordance with prescribed standards, the so called Golden Thread of safety information.
Unlike the Egan or Latham initiatives, the Building Safety Act places extensive obligations on those working in the construction sector. The message is clear, if you are working in England you must play your part in making all buildings safer or face the consequences.