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With the UK government recently announcing that a new building safety regulator for England will be created. This regulator will be overseen by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), this regulatory body aims to “improve high-rise residential building and fire safety.” The new body will be overseen by Dame Judith Hackitt, who chaired the report in response to the Grenfell Tower fire.
On the other hand, the Scottish government quickly responded in 2017 to the Grenfell Tower fire by launching two independent reviews. The Cole and Stollard review aimed to look at Scottish building standards, whilst another looked to assess the Scottish fire safety regime. Both reviews led to legislation being introduced as a result of the recommendations. For instance, “enhanced standards for smoke, heat and carbon monoxide detectors and alarm systems" alongside increased use of sprinklers and second escape stairs in new buildings, as well as a ban on combustible cladding on a range of buildings”. Whilst these legislative changes were deemed a success it appears that Scotland could be left behind as reform in England is gaining momentum.
A Fire Safety Bill is set to be introduced in the coming months, it is expected this will be based on the recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry and any further answers given in the government’s recent consultations. Whereas, “in Scotland, the common parts of residential buildings are not subject to most of the duties contained within the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006. Enforcement powers and common parts were identified as areas for improvement in the review of the fire safety regime, but so far, the Scottish Government hasn’t taken this forward, apart from consulting on the guidance currently available. As a result, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service does not have the tools to force building owners to ensure resident safety their southern counterparts will enjoy.”
What’s more, “the UK government also intends to introduce a Building Safety Bill, to give the HSE powers to scrutinise the construction of high-rise residential buildings, the materials used and the quality of workmanship.” Whereas, in Scotland, the focus of HSE will be solely on the safety of workers, as opposed to the safety of the people who will ultimately live in the homes they are building.” These disparities in the usefulness of HSE could grow as in England HSE will “have an ongoing role throughout the life of the building to ensure the safety of residents, by enforcing new duties for building owners and building managers to set out a safety case and implement safety measures for the building.”
Whilst the government has been criticised for a relatively slow response, the introduction of this new regulator in England can be seen as a sign of intent by some to kick-start the process of improving the industry. Time will tell whether the new building safety regulator will have the desired positive effect on the industry and the fire safety of the UK.