The golden path to safety


Dean Asher from Polypipe Building Products offers some pointers for industry on how best to ensure it is complying with the Building Safety Act’s requirements, particularly the golden thread’s new responsibilities for design, build and maintenance

Many in the industry have advocated for tighter regulation to make the built environment as safe as it can be since the Grenfell tragedy in 2017. As a result, the Building Safety Act 2022 has been developed in an effort to completely transform UK building safety regulations and set out a clear pathway on how residential buildings should be safely constructed and maintained.

While some parts of the 2022 legislation came into effect earlier this year, the majority of updates to the Building Safety Act came into force on 1 October. The latest set of updates have imposed greater responsibilities on housebuilders, developers and contractors, as well as building owners and operators – through updates to duty holder roles and duties, and changes to workflow and processes.

One of the biggest changes has been the implementation of a ‘golden thread of information’ in projects. This new concept has been designed to ensure that safety is considered at every stage of the building’s life cycle. With the new regulations now in force, it is imperative that architects are familiar with them, and what the golden thread means for them.

The Golden Thread of Data

The Government has introduced the concept of a golden thread of information, and defines it as ‘both the information that allows you to understand a building and the steps needed to keep both the building and people safe, now and in the future.’ 

The golden thread will hold all of the key information that those responsible for the building require to identify, understand, manage and mitigate building safety risks throughout the lifecycle of the building. This includes both the information and documents and the information management processes used to support building safety.

The golden thread will essentially provide a thorough audit trail of a building, and the systems used within it. Therefore, it will affect everyone in the supply chain, whether it’s providing data, ensuring the provision of data, or referring back to the data in the instance of retrofitting a property later down the line. As such, it’s important that the data thread is readily available and kept up-to-date throughout the building’s life.

All those responsible for building design, construction, and maintenance, will be expected to implement systems that ensure compliance, as the golden thread has become a mandatory feature of the Building Safety Act. All those involved in the design and construction of the build will need to consider this throughout the duration of the project, as it is not an ‘end of the project’ activity, but instead it is an ongoing ‘live’ electronic record of the building information. This includes up-to-date safety information regarding the building design, build, and management. This information will be stored and transferred electronically (the digital requirements are not prescriptive in terms of software, file types etc, but they must be accessible) and recipients must acknowledge receipt.

Compliance & consequences

As well as ensuring that any safety risks in a building can be identified and mitigated, adhering to the current regulations is also vital for designers and contractors – to avoid prosecution. The Building Safety Act grants further enforcement powers to the newly appointed Building Safety Regulator, and encompasses Regulation 38, which can hold not only organisations to account, but individuals too. In fact, any person responsible can be held liable retrospectively for up to 30 years since a build, and 15 years prospectively. 

In order to avoid liability issues, the principal contractor and designer will be under obligation to report anything that could present a risk of death or serious injury to the Building Safety Regulator when working on any build. These disclosures will offer protection for that individual from criminal proceedings but failure to ‘whistle blow’ potential hazards during the design and construction phases could be a criminal offence. 

The Building Safety Act places a duty on the people responsible for buildings to put in place and maintain a golden thread that is accurate, accessible and up-to-date. During the build phase, these individuals are known as ‘duty holders.’ This responsibility may fall to either the principal designer, the principal contractor or the client. Failure to adhere to the applicable Building Regulations can result in prosecution for this individual.

The golden thread is also particularly important when working on higher risk buildings, as the duty holder must ensure the receipt of a completion certificate ahead of occupation for these builds. A completion certificate signifies that the building is compliant with building regulation and is safe. The information collated to satisfy golden thread requirements will be significant when collating the evidence of compliance and therefore completion in accordance with approvals.  

Looking ahead

Many elements of the latest updates to the Building Safety Act have already become standard practice across some of the industry, however in terms of it being a mandatory requirement for all there is still work to be done. 

It should be viewed as an opportunity for the industry to come together. For the implementation to be a success, solid communication strategies are crucial for ensuring all stakeholders are aware of their responsibilities when it comes to maintaining the golden thread. 

All disciplines need to collaborate closely to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding documentation requirements. The best way to ensure building safety, and therefore compliance, is to collaborate with the full supply chain early on in a project – ensure adequate data, scrutinise specifications, and highlight any elements of a specification that could be problematic in future. By doing so, we can make sure our products and buildings are safe.

Dean Asher is head of technical services at Polypipe Building Products