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Rachel Davidson Feb 8, 2024 5:20:37 PM 5 min read

Every building is high risk and all occupants deserve to be safe


Many contractors are still ignoring safety regulations despite repeated warnings that measures introduced by the Building Safety Act are already in place and affect every project, writes Rachel Davidson, BESA's director of specialist knowledge.


The Act has already altered the regulations that apply to all construction work and not just higher risk/high rise residential buildings (HRBs)* and, therefore, anyone thinking it has nothing to do with them is facing potential prosecution.

While the Act itself is primarily focused on HRBs, it has already changed many elements of the existing fire safety and building regulations, including the supporting approved documents that apply to all projects. It is also introducing secondary legislation that affects all building work.

“Anyone sitting back and waiting to see what happens is going to be in a lot of trouble,” said Nick Mead, chair of BESA’s Building Safety Act Advisory Group (BSAAG). “The Regulator is looking for proof that you are complying with regulations now and that the people working on a project were competent to carry out the specific tasks assigned to them.”

He said the industry should be braced for a high-profile prosecution under the Act because the Regulator would be keen to make a point.

“The simplest thing is to treat every building as high risk. The Act has already significantly changed the rules, and every occupant deserves to be safe,” said Nick. “Our industry has become very lax in its record keeping, particularly around change management.

“If you cannot provide proof of why a decision was made or that the work was carried out by a competent person, the Regulator will not approve it.”

The advisory group, which was set up to advise BESA members and other specialist contractors about the specific issues relating to the building services sector, warned that MEP firms faced particular scrutiny because of the relative complexity of their work and the “eagerness of many specifiers to spread risks around their supply chains”.

The group also warned contractors to be ready for a period of uncertainty as Building Control Officers (BCOs) prepare to become a registered profession in April. There are estimated to be more than 4,000 who must become certified as competent to work as building inspectors under the new safety regime and they have until October to complete the required assessments and registration process.

BESA said members were already reporting considerable delays with an estimated 60% of ‘in scope’ projects held up at planning Gateway One and only “a handful” have even reached Gateway Two.

“Many inspectors are taking a no risk approach because of confusion over the new rules – and the least risky approach is not to proceed,” said Nick, who is technical director of MEICA Systems at Laing O’Rourke. “The whole thing could get messy if some projects have to be reassessed at a later stage because they were signed off by unregistered BCOs.”

It is hardly surprising there was confusion as the industry tried to adapt to the new regulations. We are trying to get away from the previously accepted approach of ‘build and design’ i.e. rushing into projects and then trying to sort out the details later.

However, even though we know what needs to be done many contractors are sitting back and waiting to see what happens. That is the riskiest approach.

Companies are only being asked to do what they should already have been doing before the Act, which is comply with existing regulations. So, what are you waiting for?


Several BESA advisory group members told us there were already disputes arising about the definition of their role. If you change something on site, you can be deemed to become a ‘designer’ under the terms of the Act which has significant risk and liability implications.

Others added that almost every client had a different definition of competence and required different types of evidence from contractors. This highlighted the pressing need for a standard format for providing evidence of competence in line with the Act, the group advised.

The advisory group said agreeing a common industry standard for competence assessment should be a priority so that clients could all work with the same benchmarks including training records, professional experience, definitions of behaviour etc.

“The things we do now will still be the bedrock of how we demonstrate competence in the future but there needs to be a common recognised format for assessing it,” explained Nick.

And I am pleased to say that BESA is part of a major exercise led by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) to review and define installer competencies required by individuals under the Act.

This will set out the skills, knowledge, experience, and behaviours for our sector’s occupations and the routes to achieving and evidencing competence in line with these values.

The Association is also reviewing existing forms of assessment including its own Competence Assessment Standard (CAS) which is used to audit both new and existing members. The aim is for the Regulator to recognise BESA membership as a standard for demonstrating organisational capabilities.

There is nothing fundamentally new about any of this. As the Regulator has already stated: If you were competent before the Act, you are still competent now, but the big change is the focus on evidence. Many of our firms and individuals are doing all the right things, but they must bear in mind the need to have digital evidence trails and keep/create comprehensive records.

Existing schemes like SKILLcard and certified training schemes are in place to address individual technical competencies and the CAS business audits could satisfy the need for an assessment of organisational competence.

The Regulator says they will be relying on industry standards as the benchmark by which compliance will be measured. We are collaborating with the CLC and others in our sector to make sure we can deliver what they and the industry need.

We are also working on a series of short, practical guides to help different types of specialist contractor understand their specific duties under the Act. These will be rolled out to members in the coming months.

* An HRB is defined as being over 18 metres in height or consisting of seven storeys, containing at least two residential units, and/or is a hospital or care home.

For more information, including guidance and advice about what contractors need to be doing now, visit our Building Safety Act Hub.