Dr Gavin Dunn of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) looks at how the discipline of the ‘the golden thread’ from the Hackitt review is fundamental to ensuring building safety from design through construction to occupation
One of the key issues of the Hackitt review was the ‘golden thread’ of design, construction and occupation, and what happens to buildings once they are handed over. How do we minimise the gap between these phases and ensure we create buildings that meet client expectations and do what they are supposed to do in terms of operation? The key point Hackitt makes is that the provision of critical technical information to future building users is essential to the safe and efficient ongoing operation of a building. Many decisions made at the construction and design stages fundamentally affect how buildings should be managed and more importantly, how they should be managed during n emergency. The review also highlighted the complexity of both the construction and procurement processes, and correctly identified the ‘fragmentation’ within the industry. There is a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities, and ambiguity over where responsibility lies. Those people who are involved at the beginning of a project, whether they are a local authority or a client, are not necessarily there at the end. Therefore, the people who are signing off conditions or substitutions may well be a new team and therefore not privy to the original safety strategy.
The original design intent, and the actual information on what has actually been built, is not ending up in the hands of the people who need it in the future in a useable way. It is often the case that building logbooks are not maintained and kept up-to-date. This issue is compounded further if the building changes hands over time, and the critical information needed by key stakeholders to manage an asset efficiently and safely is getting lost. Even if it does exist, it is invariably not in a useable format or in the right person’s hands. Ultimately, it’s about information and the flow of information across the different stakeholders during the lifetime of a building. People need to be armed with the correct information about a built asset so they can make informed decisions about how to run and manage a building safely and efficiently.
A golden thread of responsibility
In order to ensure and guarantee that this ‘golden thread’ of information is provided, there also needs be an implicit golden thread of responsibility that hands over at every point in the lifecycle of a building – and clarity is needed on who is responsible for that critical safety information at every stage. A named professional involved in the design phase will have responsibility to not only collate that information, but ensure it is documented correctly and handed over to the next responsible person, and ultimately the person managing the building. There are three key roles, which we believe will be part of the regulatory process. These are the principal designer (or safety officer for the designer), principal contractor and building manager. Competency of these individuals will be closely monitored, defined and scrutinised and needs to encompass responsibility on the building owner also to ensure competent persons are appointed. For every building there needs to be a named individual who is responsible and accountable for this critical information and ensure it is not lost. Digital technology, i.e. Building Information Modelling (BIM) and blockchain have a key role to play in ensuring the information is correct, available to all future stakeholders and kept up-to-date and available in a format that can easily be used by multiple parties into the future. Ultimately the availability of this information will also likely be used to more precisely assign accountability in the future if things go wrong. While we don’t yet know what the new regulatory regime will be, it’s likely these roles will need to be demonstrably competent, and that the use of UCAS certified individuals or members of Engineering Council approved bodies will be necessary. As an engineering body representing technical specialists across buildings and becoming a member of the Engineering Council ourselves, CABE is well placed to support members who wish to undertake these roles. Competency was a clear theme of the review and something the industry has been quick to support. Buildings are inherently complex and sophisticated, which is why competency is needed throughout the whole design, build and operating process.
New chartered ground
The Engineering Council formally recognises building engineering as a discipline in its own right. It clearly defines chartered building engineers as professionals that use engineering principles to apply technology, innovation and technical standards to buildings to ensure that they are safe, efficient and healthy places for people across its entire lifecycle. What better definition of the golden thread could there be? The benefits of getting this right go way beyond simply fire safety. They also include broader health and safety, building performance, occupant comfort, wellbeing along with energy use, climate and environmental impacts, running costs and asset value. The idea of the ‘golden thread’, or performance gap is just the latest incarnation of a set of issues that has plagued our industry. CABE was founded in 1925 by a group of professionals including Sir Edwin Lutyens, as the Incorporated Association of Architects and Surveyors (IAAS) to create a technical forum that brought together those professionals involved in the design (i.e. the architects) and those overseeing the construction and existing buildings (i.e. the surveyors) because it was felt the industry was too siloed, even back in 1925. The Hackitt review should be seen as a turning point, and while there is still much to do as an industry, CABE and its members are uniquely placed to ensure change happens and can play a significant role in ensuring the golden thread of design intent is preserved, thus creating a better and safer built environment.
Dr Gavin Dunn is chief executive of Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE)