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THE DRAFT BUILDING SAFETY BILL: WHY SPECIFIERS MUST ADAPT NOW

The draft Building Safety Bill proposes the most radical overhaul of building safety regulations for decades. Paul Swaddle, Head of Technical Solutions at NBS, explores what this better, safer future for buildings could mean for specifiers.

NBS

Addressing a virtual audience of 600 built environment professionals in October, Dame Judith Hackitt had a stark warning for the attendees of the NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit: “Adapt and change if you’re going to survive.”

Speaking in her capacity as Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, Dame Hackitt said that although legislation set out in the draft Building Safety Bill may not be implemented until 2023, it is a moral obligation for the construction industry to act as if they are already in place.

This is yet another wake-up call for public sector specifiers and the wider industry, parallel to all the recommendations and requirements of the Building Safety Programme. The draft Building Safety Bill is a much-needed conduit for change, and the provision of a golden thread of information is at its heart. The new building safety regulator will ensure that all major regulatory decisions for buildings in scope at design, construction, occupation and refurbishment stages are overseen. Specification will be central to these information exchanges.

Repeated calls for culture change

The shared moral responsibility highlighted by Dame Hackitt should really be the only argument needed for culture change in the industry, to ensure the safety of buildings and their occupants now and in the future, and that tragedies like Grenfell are never repeated. That said, ensuring that buildings are high quality and built to exacting standards has a number of other long-term benefits, reducing costly rectification and remediation, improving environmental performance and increasing the lifecycle of built assets.

Mark Farmer, the CEO and Founding Director of Cast, a leading construction consultancy, echoed those sentiments in his own presentation, ‘Modernise or die’, providing an update on key themes of his 2016 ‘Farmer Review’ of UK construction. “We’re going to see some uncomfortable moments for those that can’t deliver quality and I urge everyone to think long term, act as a leader and collaborate in moving construction forward.”

Power of the golden thread

Better management of data will benefit everyone in the procurement and management of buildings, especially specifiers at the front line of decision-making, recording the digital audit trail of client requirements and product selections. The new rules for high-rise buildings in scope are designed to capture the whole construction journey from early design and planning through to occupation and the needs of residents.

Ensuring greater accountability, and making it clear who is responsible for managing potential risks and their mitigation, is a core principle of the draft bill. Successful implementation of the new regulatory regime to check that what is required to move to the next stage has been delivered rests on the golden thread of vital information about the building in all its detail, gathered and refreshed over its lifetime.

Golden thread is one of the phrases I’m glad to hear as a buzzword. There are no excuses left. Everyone in the industry must take accountability for their data and their competence. For specifiers, this duty requires the creation and maintenance of rich, reliable data sets for every system used, and every specification generated will drive efficiency and make this complex process easier to carry out.

Safer buildings, delivered efficiently

This is a time of unprecedented change. Dame Hackitt’s call to stop the “race to the bottom” has to finally move construction culture from being cost-focused to being quality-driven and urgently address the last-minute practices of value engineering and product substitution. According to NBS’ Marketing Integrity Group Construction Product Information Survey (November 2019) only half of architects (52%) and a third of contractors (33%) polled said that drawings or models were updated following product substitution.

The survey found that performance criteria of the replacement product was not matched against the original by nearly half of contractors (48%). More rigorous digital record-keeping and clear ‘gateway’ sign-off procedures will become our new normal, requiring a transparent approach to specifying and product comparison, and new tools to reflect new processes.

Collaboration is king

Adopting these new digital approaches will reduce mistakes, ensure currency of standards and require that checking and verification procedures are tightened. With a cloud-based specification platform, such as NBS Chorus, high-quality data management becomes easy, improving the value of information and providing opportunities for greater collaboration.

Poor communication is one of the most likely routes to misinformation in the project documentation but, in NBS Chorus, collaborators can be invited directly into the project to capture information centrally. In addition, linking the specification to the graphical, model information and using the NBS plug-ins to keep them in sync, will save time and coordinate previously disconnected data.

Communication between specifiers and manufacturers has traditionally been a tangled web of email threads and PDF literature which quickly falls out-of-date. Powerful online databases, like NBS Source, are freely available to construction professionals to find, select and compare product data across thousands of products. This saves considerable effort spent liaising with manufacturers and inputting product information manually. In combination, NBS Source and NBS Chorus contain an encyclopaedic amount of up-to-date and consistently structured information alongside technical guidance, delivering an essential assurance to the industry and instilling confidence in specifiers using NBS products.

What about those reluctant to collaborate? Well, in Dame Hackitt’s words, these “laggards and dinosaurs” will fall away. “People will choose to work with people who want to collaborate.”

Golden opportunities

The future is about embracing data and technology to keep the golden thread intact. In doing so, these new workflows will have a direct impact on wider sustainability goals, for instance, by demonstrating how buildings can reduce embodied carbon and emissions, improving the built environment for all.

Sharing research at the summit, David Rockhill, Associate Partner at McKinsey, congratulated the industry on its ability to move fast when the COVID-19 situation demanded. He revealed that two-thirds of construction leaders believe the pandemic will accelerate digital transformation of the industry. He commented: “This disruption can be daunting, but the reality is that the challenges we face can only be met by construction changing the way things are done.”

To avoid repeating some shameful history, that kind of change can’t come soon enough.

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