Over the last few years, the safety of buildings, and the people occupying them, has reached an ever-higher profile in the public consciousness. Whilst there had been a long-held feeling throughout the construction industry that something needed to be done to guarantee greater consistency in the design and construction quality of buildings, the tragedy that unfolded at Grenfell Tower in June 2017 brought things into a terrible focus.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building regulations - ‘Building a Safer Future’ - in the aftermath of Grenfell - concluded that major reform was needed. Many of her recommendations regarding the delivery of a more robust regulatory system were reflected in the Government’s draft Building Safety Bill, which easily represents the most sweeping change to building safety in the last 40 years.
One of the biggest concerns being addressed is the need for greater accountability at every stage of the construction process, establishing a chain of custody and holding those in charge throughout the various stages of the building’s existence accountable for any mistakes.
The appointment of a Chief Inspector of Buildings to lead and set up the new Building Safety Regulator (BSR) will ensure the new rules are enforced, and action taken against anybody deemed to have broken them.
Whilst accountability throughout the lifecycle of a building plays a key role in restoring confidence in the design, construction and maintenance of high-rise buildings, further initiatives will focus on the products being used, ensuring they are fit for purpose.
At the start of the year, the UK government announced it was establishing a regulator for construction products who will have the power to remove any product from the market that presents a significant safety risk. They will also have the power to prosecute any companies who flout the rules on product safety. In addition, organisations such as the Construction Products Association (CPA) and British Board of Agrément, have also launched their own consultations which will look at how product information is presented and marketed and how to drive forward product safety.
Collectively this provides precisely the kind of transparent reassurance that has been sought for many years. Critically, for building occupiers, it will provide long-term reassurance about the quality targets for, and development history of, a given building.
The message is clear: not only do construction firms and their partners need to do everything they can to make new builds as safe as possible – they need to be seen to be doing so.
As a leading lighting manufacturer, we see it as vital that we show leadership in raising awareness of the scope and importance of initiatives which improve building safety. We believe they will have a much-needed positive impact on the specification process. This is particularly relevant given the new powers to better regulate materials and products and ensure they are safe for use.
Regrettably, lighting has often been an area that has fallen victim to spec-breaking, and it is arguable that the issue has become more acute in the LED era with a fresh wave of low-price – but not always high-quality – luminaires hitting the market. More than ever, making the case for the long-term benefits of higher-end solutions is going to be critical – we can no longer aim for minimum compliance to get the job done. Put simply, quality must never be compromised at any point in the supply chain.
The case for high quality solutions which enhance building safety can be highlighted when it comes to the installation, ongoing testing and maintenance of emergency lighting. To industry outsiders, it would be easy to assume that emergency lighting is a priority in the development and maintenance of all buildings. Now required to be installed and tested in line with British Standard BS 5266:1 2016, emergency lighting should provide adequate lighting levels and directional indication in the event of a mains failure, allowing occupants to move around and/or exit the building without accident or injury. The risk with value engineered solutions is emphasised in terms of warranties. Whilst the emergency luminaire may have a five-year warranty, the ‘life saving’ battery is far less.
Unfortunately, our experience indicates that, all too frequently, emergency lighting is still an issue that is being tackled in the later stages of a project; and sometimes by those with inadequate knowledge of the technical and legal requirements. This must change. It is an area where responsible manufacturers are working hard to inform and educate the market, providing advice that offers real peace of mind. There must be no compromises. There must be no compromises. This is why we advise specifiers and architects to specifically look for 3-years warrantee on batteries to ensure peace of mind.
To achieve this, collaboration is essential. Everybody across the building services sector needs to work together to maintain building safety and offering the highest levels of accountability. As a manufacturer we have an important part to play in educating the market and will be working hard to communicate a clear case for quality solutions that deliver excellence, consistency and peace of mind.
There is no doubt that it will take some years for confidence to be restored in the safety of buildings. But collectively we can all play a key role in building a culture of responsibility, providing the way forward to a brighter, safer future.