Why subcontractors can’t afford to wait until ten past midnight for the Building Safety Bill

Highrise buildings under construction.

The upcoming Building Safety Bill, which received Royal Assent in April making it the Building Safety Act, represents a fundamental shift in the way we operate, and will require cultural and behavioural change – including amongst subcontractors.

But right now, large portions of the industry aren’t ready for the legislation coming through the UK Parliament. There’s a risk that many companies may be taken by surprise or wait until ten minutes after midnight when it’s too late, causing an almighty rush to get ready.

As a subcontractor, there might be a temptation to think the Bill won’t apply to you, or that it’s just another box to tick on particular projects. But while it might initially only apply to high rise buildings, this legislation will change the whole construction industry.

Anyone that doesn’t act will feel the financial implications – not only from the government and regulators, but from clients and insurers who won’t work with firms that can’t provide the evidence needed. Any business not prepared to change may well be squeezed out.

At BESA, we’re clear that all subcontractors need to get prepared, and find out how their world is going to change. That’s why we’ve collaborated on a guide for what’s coming in the Building Safety Bill and how everyone in construction – from subcontractors to owners – can ready their organisation.

Download the white paper, How to get ready for the Building Safety Bill

Providing proof of compliance and competency

For subcontractors, the key change at the heart of the Building Safety Bill is providing good evidence that your workforce is properly skilled to deliver, and that work is completed and compliant. It’s about being able to prove that you have the technical competency to deliver the job and give evidence that it has been completed properly on-site.

On paper this sounds simple, but for some, it will mean a significant shift in business culture. In the past, in some corners of the industry , there has been an attitude that work is acceptable as long as the building inspector doesn’t spot any issues.

Across the supply chain, we must ensure the entire workforce’s mission is the same: it’s our duty to deliver a building that’s compliant and works, particularly as the Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of subcontractor services like effective ventilation systems.

From an operations perspective, subcontractors will need to feed into the new golden thread of information – the permanent digital record of information about a building, maintained from design to construction and operations.

Getting ready to go digital

Supporting the golden thread of information will require the use of digital technology, which might be daunting if you’re early in your digital transformation journey. But there are plenty of well-proven, cost-effective digital tools that can help – and our white paper offers example workflows and advice.

Start by learning the terms of digital construction; it’ll be much easier, and you’ll learn you can do many of the things you want to, at a much lower cost than you might think. Working with people that you know – including major contractors – can be hugely helpful for deciding where to start.  And importantly, remember that your employees do use technology a lot in their day to day lives, without needing to take a course on every app. People will adapt.

But beyond the Building Safety Bill, using digital technology is vital for subcontractors to keep up with the requirements of business today. You will be able to access and use valuable information for the first time, opening up potential benefits and avoiding disputes with clients, and finding ways to become more efficient as a business.

On the other hand, keep delaying on digital and you might be unable to maintain your competitiveness or even participate in certain projects. Just because clients might not be asking you for Building Information Management (BIM) right now doesn’t mean they don’t want it – they might just be getting it elsewhere.

A step forward for subcontractors – and the industry

The Building Safety Bill can bring huge benefits for the industry. With the new Gateway system requiring approval at every stage of the design and construction process, we’re likely to see a move away from bad practices like starting construction while design is still underway, an incredibly unproductive and costly way of working.

We can move towards standardisation – so that rather than delivering the same thing slightly differently twenty times a year for twenty different projects, we can make smaller adjustments and optimise what we create.

In turn, that opens up design for manufacture and assembly (DFMA), where components are manufactured elsewhere and simply brought together on-site. With this more reliable and less disruptive model, we can start to get a reputation as an industry that delivers buildings that work on time, on budget, with minimal disruption. We’ll become a more attractive sector for new recruits – and be recognised for our positive impact on society as a whole.

The new requirements in the Building Safety Bill are an important step on this journey. My advice is for everyone to realise that we’re at a turning point – and change is unavoidable. But help is out there. Get prepared today, and you can realise the advantages of what’s ahead.

For more advice from David and other industry experts, download the full white paper, How to get ready for the Building Safety Bill

Register for our upcoming webinar with Autodesk and BESA, How to prepare for the Building Safety Act

David Frise

Group Chief Executive Officer at Building Engineering Services Association