With the impending introduction of the Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Act, Siôn Bellis of Createmaster explains how professionally collated Fire and Emergency Files can ensure delivery of fire safety data and improve trust between building owners and occupants
The long-awaited Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Act marks the beginning of vital new changes to our building safety laws. However, there are challenges ahead for the social housing sector relating to digital information management.
With the Building Safety Bill’s Gateway two (pre-construction) and Gateway three (pre-occupation) coming into force next year, there’s an urgent need to start collating correct and comprehensive fire and emergency information.
Developers and property owners will need to put digital systems in place to standardise and professionalise the management of vital handover information throughout a building’s whole lifecycle, in-line with Dame Judith Hackitt’s flagship objective of establishing a ‘Golden Thread’ of information.
The Fire and Emergency File (FEF) is just one of the many essential digital assets required in this new framework.
Digital documentation for the Duty Holder
In the new regime, building operators will need to have fit-for-purpose handover documentation in digital formats, so the Duty Holders (the main contractor during construction, the asset owner during occupation) appropriately manage fire safety throughout the entire building lifecycle.
While many leading housing associations, industry steering groups, and specialist consultants have taken a best-practice approach to FEF requirements, some remain unsure about what they should be doing and when.
However, not grasping the nettle now risks facing trouble further down the line, especially as the new building safety regulator will undoubtedly issue maximum penalties and fines for non-compliance. In addition, the scope of the incoming regulations will broaden in the future, beyond the current building size and use criteria.
My advice is this: Adopting a best practice approach towards FEFs today will put developers and building owners in a strong position for the future.
Single source of the truth
Of particular note is that, for Gateway three, prescribed data and information on the as-built building will be required, and information must be handed over to the person(s) responsible for the building in use.
Within this, the FEF will ensure complete and accurate fire and emergency information at handover, providing a correct guide that can be used for legally compliant maintenance and management of a property. It will demonstrate the ability to manage risk, prepare for future regulations and audits, and increase trust between building owner and occupants.
“Not grasping the nettle now risks trouble down the line, especially as the new regulator will undoubtedly issue maximum penalties and fines for non-compliance”
A best-practice FEF will also support data compliance in regard to the current Regulation 38, which stipulates information critical to fire safety is communicated to the owner/occupier/end user, so that the building can be managed correctly.
FEFs will typically include fire-strategy documents, details on all active and passive installed systems, comprehensive information of external wall construction details and materials used, individual product fire rating details, statutory certification and product conformance evidence, as well as other as-built information.
All this information is held as a single source of truth, to be updated as the building moves through its life. To function correctly, the FEF must always be up-to-date.
A major challenge within housing will be bringing the vast amount of existing HRRB (higher-risk residential buildings) stock in line with the new legal framework. Mandatory FEFs are applicable to legacy, as well as future, housing builds; so it’s crucial to act now or risk non-compliance in the very near future.
It’s true systems integration for robust data management isn’t a simple job, and there are challenges around skills and training, and sometimes confusion over responsibility for data collection and sign off.
For housing developers and asset owners feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand, it may be reassuring to know that specialist digital systems are available to make FEF implementation as professional and pain-free as possible.
Now is the time to be proactive, find the right technology partner, and navigate the new legislative framework around fire safety with a fit-for-purpose digital documentation solution. As the Building Safety Bill is phased into law, it’s well worth taking a structured approach to the delivery of these vital information sets.
Doing so will protect residents’ lives and your organisation’s future.
Image: Siôn Bellis, Createmaster
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