Building safety has long been a priority in the UK construction, residential and commercial real estate sectors, with regulations and standards put in place at every level to protect not just occupants, but workers and the general public, too. Despite this, there have been a number of high-profile building safety failings in recent memory.
Tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire have thrown building safety into the spotlight once again, underscoring the need for more stringent measures to ensure better building safety across the built environment. The government responded last year with the Building Safety Act 2022, which aims to improve building safety standards across the country.
Sitting at the heart of this legislation is digital information, something that is poised to play a crucial role in achieving these standards, with mechanisms like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and digital transformation providing the frameworks and solutions to improve things across the board.
In this blog, we’ll explore how digital information and digital transformation are helping to drive standards in every phase of the built environment, looking at the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.
What is The Building Safety Act 2022?
The Building Safety Act 2022 is an important piece of legislation that aims to improve building safety standards in the UK. In a previous incarnation, it was known simply as the Building Act 1984, a statute that consolidated pre-existing legislation around design specifications and the construction process.
The new Building Safety Act was drafted in 2020 in response to the Grenfell Tower fire, aiming to address more specific issues related to building safety beyond the design and construction phase – with an additional focus on fire safety, too. As part of the new Building Safety Act 2022, which received royal assent in April 2022, there are now more rules around the provision of information about a building, which it is believed will greatly improve building safety in the future.
The new legislation states that building information must now be kept digitally and securely, and it also must be readily available for people who need the information to do a job (firefighters or building maintenance, for example) whenever that person needs the information. Additionally, it must be presented in a way that a person can use, and it should be deemed as a building’s single source of truth.
This amounts to a digital-first approach to building information that is both shareable and standardised for a range of stakeholders, with a “golden thread” running throughout.
Another provision of the Building Safety Act is the introduction of a “duty holder” system. Under this new system, responsibility is placed on individuals involved in the design, construction, management and maintenance of a building to ensure that it is safe, and not just in the early phases of construction, but throughout its lifecycle, too.
The duty holder system requires that digital information is provided to the building safety regulator – another new provision under the Act – to support the management of building safety risks.
The building safety regulator, or BSR, oversees the implementation of the duty holder system and other elements of the Building Safety Act, ensuring that buildings are safe for occupants and the public. The BSR has the power to take enforcement action against those who do not comply with building safety requirements.
As we mentioned, digital information has become an integral part of The Building Safety Act. It is critical for upholding and driving forward standards and complying with the rules and regulations outlined in the Act.
One of the areas where digital information should be especially valuable is by providing accurate and up-to-date information to the duty holder, whether that’s the property manager, the landlord or otherwise, which can then be used for a number of purposes.
As we touched on earlier, this is known as the golden thread of digital information. Those responsible for a building’s information through its entire lifecycle, and those who rely on that information to do their job, will be better prepared to demonstrate compliance, safety and ongoing maintenance.
What is the golden thread of digital information?
In the property industry, the term golden thread of digital information refers to the idea of maintaining consistent and accessible records of digital information about a building. This is true not just for the initial design and build phases, but throughout the entire lifecycle of a property.
The golden thread is more of an idea, used to promote “best practice” thinking as per the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance and the Building Safety Act 2022. The golden thread encompasses information about the design, construction, maintenance and use of the property.
Overall, the thought behind it is intended to ensure that all stakeholders – including building companies, principal designers and principal contractors, as well as local authorities – have access to accurate and up-to-date information about the property.
Whether that’s design drawings, specifications, building materials, maintenance schedules or other data, by maintaining a consistent and accessible record of information, everyone involved in that building’s construction and continued care can ensure that the property is first built to a high standard, used safely and then finally maintained effectively for years to come.
The idea is particularly relevant in the context of building safety because, in the aftermath of high-profile incidents like the Grenfell Tower fire, there has been a renewed focus on access to accurate and up-to-date information about the buildings people own, manage or occupy.
When firefighters attended the Grenfell Tower fire, they had little information about the types of materials they were dealing with at the scene. In this case, the external cladding proved to be a major issue and one that sparked a nationwide debate around building materials, prompting a widespread reevaluation of building materials.
In practice, keeping a golden thread of digital information means that there needs to be a consistent approach to data management. This includes the use of standardised data formats, cloud-based platforms for data sharing and collaboration and the establishment of clear lines of responsibility for managing and maintaining the information.
It’s an important concept emerging in real estate that has now been backed by the Act, and it emphasises the importance of keeping accurate information on hand to improve building safety, ensure effective maintenance and management, and create more efficient and sustainable properties.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) clearly outlines the information that duty holders need to keep, as does the guidance, including the information necessary during the design and construction of a building, as well as the level of detail required for lived-in buildings.
The role of digital transformation in building safety
The idea of digital information and the golden thread is intrinsically linked to digital transformation. This is the integration of technology into the design, construction and maintenance process that helps mitigate (or eliminate entirely) building safety risks by providing real-time data, analytics, automation, streamlined processes, and means of collaboration between stakeholders.
One of the foremost ways that technology can help improve building safety is through the use of digital inspections. Whereas once they were paper-based, safety inspections can be used to assess building safety – including condition reports, electrical or gas safety certificates, surveys, and risk assessments – providing real-time data that helps individual stakeholders, teams and organisations work faster and smarter.
Capturing digital inspections can help identify potential safety risks so corrective action can be taken before things become problematic, and is a small part of the processes that can have far-reaching benefits.
The use of a cloud-based property inspection platform like Property Inspect, can enable real-time collaboration and data sharing between everyone involved, whether that’s maintenance teams and property managers, or surveyors and contractors. This captures the “golden thread” of information, standardising information and processes to streamline safety for many stakeholders.
While the broader idea of digital transformation plays a critical role in improving building safety in the UK, the integration of technology into the inspection process can help mitigate building safety risks early on, improving collaboration between stakeholders.
As the design, construction and maintenance of buildings continue to evolve, digital transformation will become increasingly important in ensuring that building safety standards are met and maintained.
The challenges and opportunities for digitising building safety
While digital transformation presents significant opportunities for improving building safety, there are also a handful of challenges to be mindful of, each of which will need to be addressed before digital information can reach its full potential.
One of the primary challenges is the cost of implementing new technologies and processes. In a notoriously traditional industry, some of the smaller firms may not have the resources to invest in the new technologies which can, unfortunately, hinder their ability to improve building safety wherever it is they might sit in the property process.
It goes without saying, but another challenge is the need for greater collaboration between stakeholders. With the introduction of the Building Safety Act 2022, there is now a legal reason to facilitate collaboration, such as information sharing. While cloud-based platforms can help here, data is often not standardised, which makes communication between different companies or stakeholders much more difficult. This can lead to delays, errors, and safety risks.
However, despite these challenges, there are plenty of opportunities for improvement in building safety through the need for digital information and, more widely, the growing digital transformation trend.
When implemented correctly, the use of emerging technologies and automated systems can be a significant boon for firms across the property spectrum, enabling faster and more accurate assessments of safety risks, stronger communication channels and standardised data. This, in turn, helps to reduce risk, ensuring the long-term safety of occupants, tenants, homeowners and the wider public.
If you want to explore digitising and streamlining inspections and reporting for your properties, book a demo or start your free trial today.