Alan Green, Managing Director of NEACO Ltd, explains why many construction companies will need to adapt to a new data-driven regulatory framework under the Building Safety Act
With the introduction of the Building Safety Act, the UK construction industry is facing a new era of regulation. The Building Safety Regulator will oversee compliance, and data will play a central role in enforcement. This new data-led approach is designed to eliminate risk, bringing evidence-based certainty which will give industry operators and building owners confidence in their ability to meet the required safety standards.
Integral to this framework is the introduction of digital tools and systems to store and supply data. It will be utilised throughout the industry as well as being available to building occupants to ensure they have agency in the oversight of standards. As part of a standardised system, these new digital resources must be accessible to construction companies of all sizes, from the largest Tier 1 contractors to SMEs.
Transparency of information and certification will be essential. This will involve more rigorous attention to data sources, testing methods, and associated documentation.
Unfortunately, the quality and reliability of testing and data within the construction industry can vary enormously. Some companies go to great lengths to demonstrate that their products go above and beyond the minimum standards required by law, seeing that evidence as a competitive strength, but others are inclined to take shortcuts and submit selective information which omits key details. This compromises the integrity of the entire system.
For example, it is not uncommon for manufacturers to provide testing data for their products without the associated fasteners or adhesives that they supply to install the product. Those fixtures can affect performance criteria such as flame retardancy and fire safety, so any given architectural solution should be fully tested as a whole system, rather than the primary components in isolation.
The use of decking and balconies on high-rise buildings is an area of design where such distinctions in methodology are critical. Buildings over 18m in height require external wall elements to be tested to confirm a minimum Euroclass A2-s1,d0 fire safety rating. Decking and balustrade manufactured from aluminium meet that standard, but supporting structures and fixings must also meet the requirement to ensure that the installation is fully compliant.
The new evidence-based regulatory framework should be sufficiently robust to reveal deficiencies in data and testing, but dutyholders should nevertheless apply certain standards to the acceptance of evidence. That means, first and foremost, relying on independent testing. For example, balustrade and other staircase elements must achieve the required fire classification to BS EN13501. Those credentials must be certified by a credible third party – in other words, an independent and authorised testing body. If a balustrade manufacturer has not invested in third party certification and instead tests its products in-house, it cannot be relied upon to supply a genuinely compliant solution.
Building Safety Act will throw a spotlight on decisions made at the design stage whenever safety issues arise. With the Building Safety Regulator acting as a prosecutor for shortfalls in standards, a lack of diligence in specification could expose developers to costly remediation measures. A single failure can impact the whole supply chain, so everyone involved in a project should be mindful of the importance of data which is independently sourced, verified and documented.
Many companies will be forced to rethink their processes and practices to survive within the new system. As an industry we have a collective responsibility to maintain standards and compliance, particularly in relation to fire safety. Credible and reliable product testing is vital to that cause.