Building Safety: it's all in the data!

12 minute read
23 January 2024

Last week saw further sections of the Building Safety Act 2022 (the Building Safety Act) come into force, which include the requirement for safety case reports to be completed. As we look at the key changes, it is timely to recall that when a panellist at the 2023 Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA) conference asked the audience to indicate whether they had prepared a building safety case report, only one hand went up. Yet by April 2024, anyone that is a "Principal Accountable Person" for an occupied higher risk building (HRB) will need to be ready to submit such a report to the Building Safety Regulator in order to comply with the Building Safety Act.

This insight explores the requirement to prepare and maintain building safety case reports, and considers the increasingly critical role that technology will play over time in managing information relating to higher-risk buildings.

What are building safety case reports?

Section 85 of the Building Safety Act (which came into force in full on 17 January 2024) requires that the "Principal Accountable Person" for an occupied higher-risk building prepares a "safety case report" containing:

"(a) any assessment of the building safety risks made under section 83 by an Accountable Person for the building; and

(b) a brief description of any steps taken under section 84 by an Accountable Person for the building".

Breaking that down, and reflecting on subsequent guidance given by the Building Safety Regulator, building safety case reports are a tool for measuring building safety compliance. They should be a digestible collation of the information that the Building Safety Regulator needs to see to determine whether building safety is being properly managed.

Each building safety case report needs to include:

  • the names and contact details of all Accountable Persons for the building;
  • details of the responsible persons for the building (to be identified in accordance with the applicable fire safety legislation);
  • a description of the building itself, including its location, shared facilities (if any) and nearby buildings and/or transport routes;
  • details of how the Principal Accountable Person and any other Accountable Persons have assessed any building safety risks in the relevant building. Specifically, the types of risk assessment techniques used, who carried out those assessments and their qualifications, the findings of those assessments and any follow up actions or recommendations made;
  • details of how identified building safety risks are being managed to ensure resident safety. Specifically, the measures in place to prevent and mitigate building safety risks for the whole building, how those measures should work, any changes that need to be made to mitigate building safety risks and conclusions from applicable building safety reports, such as structural inspections;
  • references and signposts to any other key documents and building safety information that the Building Safety Regulator may reasonably ask to see (including the "golden thread" as commented on below) and that support the assessments made, as well as the safety measures selected;
  • an explanation and overview of the safety management system for the building;
  • a strategy for the building during an emergency, with detail around why certain approaches have been selected, as well as how those approaches are intended to work;
  • a description of any missing control measures and/or information that is identified during the preparation of the relevant safety case report (for example, ongoing building work that might impact on the safety of the building), with details of how this will be resolved and by when; and
  • details of any temporary measures that are in place to mitigate risks due to missing control measures and the applicable timescales.

Once prepared, the Principal Accountable Person is responsible for revising the building safety case report "as necessary or appropriate" and must notify the Building Safety Regulator of all updates (to be followed up by a copy of the revised report, if requested). Specific guidance from the Building Safety Regulator has clarified that building safety case reports must be reviewed whenever improvement work is carried out to manage building safety risks and/or works on the building that are taking place which impact more generally on building safety.

Other key building safety "information requirements"

The Building Safety Act is a substantial piece of legislation (running to 260 pages!) and, unsurprisingly, there are other provisions that relate to building safety information during the occupation of a HRB. In summary, these are:

  • section 87, which sets out detailed mandatory reporting requirements intended to ensure that the Regulator is notified on the occurrence of certain building safety incidents (broadly, occurrences relating to structural integrity or spread of fire, which would be likely to present a risk of a significant number of deaths, or serious injury, to a significant number of people);
  • section 88, which relates to the "golden thread";
  • section 89, which governs the provision of information to residents, the regulator and other persons (for more on the provision of Key Building Information to the Regulator under section 89(1), please see our earlier insight on this subject in relation to occupied HRBs); and
  • section 90, which governs handover of information where there is a change in Accountable Person or Principal Accountable Person.

For now, it is clear is that the Building Safety Act has shone a spotlight on the importance of building safety information. It is vital that building safety information and data is properly recorded and stored if your building is a "higher-risk building".

The role of technology – storing building safety information "digitally"

The Building Safety Act requires that the golden thread is stored digitally throughout the life-cycle of the building, so that the information is accessible and can be quickly updated and handed over.

The Building Safety Regulator has produced detailed practical guidance on this. The guidance prescribes that "golden thread" information must:

  • be kept digitally;
  • be kept securely;
  • represent the building's "single source of truth";
  • be available to people who need the information to do a job (logically this would include emergency personnel);
  • be available when people need it;
  • be presented in a way that people can use it;
  • be proportionate (taking into account the stage the building is at in its life); and
  • when the building is occupied, include details of how building safety risks are being assessed and managed.

While the guidance does not specifically refer to building safety cases, it is reasonable to assume those fall within the final point above, and it is therefore good practice to also store those and wider building safety information in this way.

Transitioning from "owner" information to "building" information

The requirement to store building safety information digitally adds further weight to the growing impact that technology is having on the Real Estate sector, including property management. From back-end office support to front of house resident-facing technology, owners and managers of HRBs have another reason to engage with technology providers.

While the requirements above are basic, Accountable Persons will be looking for more than a basic digital library. They will be looking for technology that helps them to navigate this new compliance minefield, ingest data from multiple sources in a compatible format, collate that data in a structured way, make that data shareable in the right scenarios and, ultimately, manage building safety risks.

Handover will be a key focus given that building safety information needs to remain accurate and accessible throughout the life of the building. This is likely to propel a shift away from viewing information as "belonging" to the owner and a need to link it to the building itself, or to view the data as being an inherent part of the building, as if it were a physical asset.

Digital twins are becoming commonplace in helping organisations to understand, track, maintain and improve physical assets. A digital twin is simply a virtual replica of a physical model. The concept is ideally suited to the Building Safety Act requirements to marshal, maintain and use data about certain aspects of a building.

Creating a digital twin requires the building developer/owner to mandate all contractors to provide the relevant data (which needs to be accurate and complete) in a standardised format to enable it to be structured and stored in a single place (to be the single source of truth) by the building developer/owner. That data is likely to be held in a cloud system (provided by a third party) and accessed and controlled on a day-to-day basis by a property manager. That data will need to be updated as and when assets are maintained. It will also need to be transferred with the building as it is bought and sold, which means that contracts with cloud providers will need to be novated as part of the sale and purchase, and purchasers may want warranties from sellers that the golden thread data is accurate and complete.

Key insights:

Now is the time for Principal Accountable Persons to:

  • continue to work out what information they already have (or should have) and where it is;
  • decide how they intend to collate, share and store building safety information. Several software providers are already offering to make this easier and it is clear that property technology will continue to grow as an offering;
  • prepare (or appoint someone else to prepare) their building safety case reports;
  • consider the extent to which they can and/or want to flow down their building safety information requirements to third parties, such as property managers;
  • establish a process for regularly reviewing and updating building safety information;
  • build in due diligence checks and controls where that information is being shared with a third party, for example a property manager; and
  • reach out for support with reviewing and/or entering into legal documents, such as agreements with technology providers – it is critical that controls are in place to ensure any transfer of the golden thread, and/or any creation or retention of building safety information, is managed in a compliant way. Contracts need to contain sufficiently detailed record keeping, storage and audit provisions.

Principal Accountable Persons need to show that they are taking steps to assess and manage building safety risks and that they are dealing with building safety information in a compliant manner. They can, however, take some comfort from the tone of the Building Safety Regulator's keynote speech at the ARMA conference – while the Building Safety Regulator will be looking to verify information, and will challenge any gaps, the aim is to prevent tragedy. Building safety case reports do not, for example, need to be perfect, but they do need to show that action is being taken to manage building safety risk.

If you have any questions about this article, please get in touch with Danielle Klepping, Jocelyn Paulley or Gemma Whittaker.

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