Home » Using BIM to effectively manage building safety information

Using BIM to effectively manage building safety information

by Sion Geschwindt
golden-thread-grenfell-building-safety-act

    Medina Jordan (PhD, MIAM) from Six35 Consulting explores how BIM can help deliver a golden thread of building safety information and uphold the post-Grenfell promise of ‘never again’

    The Grenfell Tower fire in London was a dreadful, and avoidable, tragedy. It was an accident waiting to happen, and sadly it did on that fateful night of 14 June 2017.

    72 innocent victims including children died that night. Some families were completely wiped out. Scores of people were injured. The entire tower block of 151 homes was completely destroyed.   

    Following the fire, an inquiry was launched to understand what caused the accident. The inquiry has only just ended, over 5 years on from the tragedy. 

    An electrical fault in a refrigerator in a 4th floor flat was the ‘ground zero’ for the fire. However, the total and deadly destruction of Grenfell Tower was really down to the poor construction, poor upkeep, and sub-standard management of the building.

    The Grenfell Tower tragedy is the worst high-rise tower block fire in UK history(Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

    The social landlord responsible for residents’ safety had failed spectacularly at its job for the decades that Grenfell Tower stood as a residential building. Incompetence, bad work culture, poor working practices, short-termism, lack of engagement with residents and plain old dishonesty were all cited as contributors to the lethal mis-management of the residential tower block. These issues were then coated with accusations of classism, racism and politics.

    Grenfell Tower now carries the label of being the worst high-rise tower block fire in UK history. However, there have been previous tower block fires that have also resulted in fatalities. Declarations of ‘such accidents must never happen again’, were always proclaimed but the warnings never heeded.

    This time in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, the UK government was compelled to deliver a new Building Safety Act, which was signed into law in April 2022. The new act will start being implemented over the next 12-18 months.

    The new Building Safety Act 2022

    The Building Safety Act includes the creation of a new Building Safety Regulator (BSR), a body that will have a range of substantial enforcement powers.

    The BSR will maintain a register of building control bodies, such as building inspectors and building control approvers (including Local Authority building control departments).

    The BSR will set minimum building safety performance standards that building control bodies (BCBs) must meet, and they will monitor the BCBs’ performance.   

    If a building control body breaches minimum performance standards, the BSR has the power to investigate and apply sanctions and enforcement powers, including removing the building control body from the official register. Should a Local Authority breach its building safety performance standards, its building control department can be taken over and the BSR can appoint officers from another Local Authority to assume control.

    The Building Safety Act (2022) includes a raft of new building safety regulations that BCBs must adhere to. The regulations presently impact the following types of building, but other building types will eventually fall within scope:

    a)      High-rise residential buildings that are over 18 metres (or 7 or more stories) high;

    b)      Hospitals that are 7 or more stories high;

    c)      Care homes that are 7 or more stories high;

    The new building safety regulations are wide-ranging and are meant to significantly improve transparency of who’s responsible for the safety of a building. One critical regulation is the management of building safety information for the whole life of a building (which is explained below).

    Who’s responsible for building safety? 

    The new Building Safety Act highlights three key roles that are accountable for building safety.

    Building owners will be designated as Responsible Persons and they will be required to:

    a)      Make clear to their building occupants who the Responsible Person is. 

    b)      Preserve and make available appropriate fire information to occupants for the entire

    life of the building.

    c)      Ensure that competent professionals carry out fire risk assessments on their buildings.  

    On new build projects, Duty Holders must be appointed to monitor and manage building safety as the building is being constructed. They will be required to appoint people with the correct skills and experience to manage building safety, and share relevant building safety information to those that need it.

    Once a building has been constructed and is ready for occupancy, an Accountable Person must be appointed to monitor and manage building safety throughout the operational life of the building. In the case of social landlords, the ‘Accountable Person’ will likely be a team of people having collective responsibility for the building’s safety. 

    The Accountable person must register the buildings with the BSR before the building becomes occupied. After that, the Accountable Person must undertake ongoing building risk assessments and implement strategies to eliminate or mitigate the risks.

    Creating a ‘golden thread’ of building safety information

    Duty Holders and Accountable Persons are also responsible for capturing and maintaining a ‘golden thread’ of building safety information throughout the whole life of a building. 

    This critical safety information helps building owners and building managers understand how their building works, and how to keep the building and the people who occupy it safe at all times. The information enables post-build auditability and accountability.

    The golden thread of information covers fire information and information about the building structure. Documents that must be collected include material product details, inspection reports and maintenance files. The information must be captured and stored digitally. 

    Building safety information must be captured for both newly constructed buildings and existing buildings. For new builds, the building safety information must be developed throughout the design and construction stages. The information must then be handed over to the Building Owner when construction is complete. Throughout the building operations stage, the designated Accountable Person is responsible for adding relevant building safety documentation to the golden thread of information and ensuring the information remains complete and up-to-date. 

    Effectively managing building safety information

    The Building Safety Act stipulates that the golden thread of building safety information must be maintained throughout the life of a building. This means the portfolio of building safety documents mandated by the BSR must be kept complete, accurate, and up-to-date. The information must be maintained digitally, remain easily identifiable and retrievable, and an audit trail of every document must be maintained.

    Unfortunately, social landlords often struggle to maintain quality information about their housing stock. Housing associations for example typically have to work with de-centralised, inconsistent and unstructured data on their asset portfolios.

    Social landlords must therefore urgently assess their current asset information management systems and upgrade them to satisfy the new, stringent information requirements set out in the Building Safety Act. Under the new Act, failure to do so could result in criminal prosecution.

    Using BIM to effectively manage building safety information

    Built environment professionals were surveyed about the use of BIM (Building Information Modelling) to manage building safety information. 70% of respondents believed that adopting the BIM framework was necessary to maintain the golden thread of information.

    In 2019, the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government published a consultation paper which proposed the mandatory application of the BIM ISO 19650 framework to manage building safety information. 

    BIM, when implemented correctly, is an effective tool to manage not only building safety information, but all information related to building and infrastructure assets. 

    Key information management questions that building control bodies will need to answer

    Organisations looking to implement the BIM ISO 19650 framework may find the plethora of terminologies used to explain the information management process rather daunting.

    So, here are some of the questions – in layman’s terms – that Responsible Persons (the building owners), Duty Holders (the principal designers & contractors) and Accountable Persons (the building managers, including social landlords) must collectively address if they want to implement a system that effectively manages their golden thread of building safety information for the whole life-time of a building:

    • What are the different types of building safety information that must be captured and maintained in the ‘golden thread’ to comply with the new building safety regulations?
    • Who’s responsible for capturing and managing the different types of building safety information?
    • Where will the different types of digital building safety information be stored (i.e., what IT application(s) will be used to store the information)?
    • How will the different types of building safety information be structured, i.e.,
    1. What digital format does each of the information types need to be presented in?
    2. How much detail does each information type need to include?
    3. How will the different information types be uniquely identified so they can be easily found?
    • When (at what project stage) do the different types of building safety information need to be collected?
    • During design and construction (new builds):
    1. How will the different types of information be transferred over to the Responsible Person once the building has been constructed?
    2. How will the different types of building safety information be kept up-to-date, i.e., what will be the trigger events for updating each information type? Who will be responsible for updating the information?
    3. How will the different types of information be transferred over to the Responsible Person once the building has been constructed?
    • During the operations phase (new & existing buildings)
    1. How will the different types of building safety information be kept-up-to-date, i.e., what will be the trigger events for updating each information type? Who will be responsible for updating the information?
    2. How will the information be used to maintain building & people safety?

        Where do we go from here?

        The new UK Building Safety Act (2022) could start to be implemented from as early as April 2023. Building control bodies must start collecting and properly managing a substantial body of building safety information as mandated by the Building Safety Regulator. BCBs must implement effective information management strategies.  

        Failure to meet minimum building safety performance standards (including management of the golden thread of building safety information) will incur stiff penalties from the Building Safety Regulator.

        BIM (ISO 19560) is an effective information management framework to not only manage building safety information, but all other types of building information.


        Read next: The case against a flexible approach to the golden thread

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