Contractors and Clients to Share Responsibility Under New Safety Regs

19 Jun 2019

Published in: Construction News, June 2019

Responsibility for a building's safety could be shared between at least five different parties working on the construction under new government plans. A new independent Building Safety Regulator will also be created in order to oversee compliance with regulations. The new proposals have been created following the Hackitt Review carried out in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The new proposals in Building a Safer Future-proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system mean that responsibility for safety regulations during construction would lie with the client, principal designer, principal contractor, designer and contractor.

The principal contractor is defined as the key contractor appointed by the client to plan, manage, coordinate and monitor the pre-construction phase when most design work is completed. The contractor is defined as any individual undertaking construction works on site.

The government has said it intends to give all five of the parties a scope of their general responsibilities and specific regulatory requirements, though it has not outlined these yet. The document states that the client, principal designer and principal contractor will have a key role in delivering compliance in the design and construction phase.

The proposal also details a three-phase gateway process. At each gateway, the relevant dutyholder will need to demonstrate they are managing safety risks before they can continue to the next stage of development. The first gateway occurs before planning permission is granted; gateway two before construction begins; and gateway three before the building’s occupation.

The proposed new Building Safety Regulator would provide oversight of building safety regulations, and monitor the gateway process to ensure the competency of those working on buildings
Building a Safer Future states that the introduction of gateways will “incentivise” dutyholders to consider fire and structural safety at the earliest opportunity.

Concrete Centre principal structural engineer Tony Jones told Construction News that while the proposals make "a fairly good stab" at improving safety, "there could be an overlap of responsibilities for the designer and the contractor”.

Mr Jones said that while the definitions of principal contractor and contractor are clear, contractors are often involved in the design work once the building is onsite. This could lead to contractors taking on designer-focused responsibilities.

He also noted that surrounding buildings do not appear to be sufficiently considered when looking at how construction materials react during construction.

“It only focuses on if new buildings will compromise surroundings ones via access, clearly there have been issues with fire during construction work,” he said.

By Caroline Wadham

Contributor - Tony Jones, principal structural engineer at The Concrete Centre