25 June 2019
By Gavin Dunn, CEO of CABE
Since the publication of Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Building a Safer Future: Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’, one phrase has been bouncing around the industry – the Golden Thread. A term that describes a thread of information that provides documentation of a building from design, construction through to operation, it has been widely accepted as a good thing. Whilst its codification is welcomed, its implementation is the cause of much confusion and its viability to ever be fully achieved has been questioned. So is it just an aspiration or something that our industry can put in to action?
Last week I had the honour to chair a panel debate at FIREX at London’s ExCeL – Europe’s only fire dedicated fire safety event. The debate was entitled ‘Hackitt’s Golden Thread – aspiration or action’ and examined this key proposal of the Hackitt review. Hackitt has spoken about the need for the industry to recognise that as well as regulatory change, a culture change is essential. Part of this is a proposed change to control the process and associated record-keeping requirements, linking to the recommendation for a digital record for every building: a ‘golden thread of information’. The purpose of the debate was to look at the achievability of this golden thread of information that spans regulatory, design, compliance, construction and operational management functions. Will we ever be able to create a process that the entire supply chain can agree on and achieve true transparency of information across our buildings and if so, what actions do we need to take?
For the debate, I was delighted to have been joined by three expert panellists to face the packed audience - Tom Roche, Assistant Vice President & Senior Consultant within the International Codes and Standards Group at FM Global, Sofie Hooper, Senior Policy Advisor at the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management and Miller Hannah, Partner at multi-disciplinary consultant Hoare Lea. Each plays a key role in the built environment and together provided an insightful view from fire engineering and design, through to analysis of risk to building operation – echoing the Golden Thread.
The debate put into perspective that the Golden Thread is essential if we are to create a safer, more resilient built environment and that we may not be that far away from achieving it. However, there are a number of obstacles to overcome.
It would appear the biggest issue is that the Golden Thread means different things to different people. It has never been defined in detail and the problem is it affects every single person in the construction industry, but in different ways. Something so big needs to be carefully defined and agreed on by industry – but who defines it and what should it look like?
Miller pointed out that all of the information required to achieve the Golden Thread exists, but that it was dotted around and in different formats. He also pointed out that the communication of information to key parties exists – a fire strategy is created and passed to the architect; it goes to the structural engineer; it goes to the Mechanical & Electrical consultant, each of whom take their necessary steps to implement it. The problem, however, lies in ensuring that all the information is then gathered into one central spot and in one common format.
Tom Roche commented that in many cases, talking to building owners about their estates was often a ‘voyage of discovery.’ From an insurer’s perspective they need to understand the risk the building poses, but all too often the questions that are asked about a building, is met with patchy answers as it is clear building owners are not entirely sure about every element of their building.
Tom likened the Golden Thread to having a detailed log book for a car. When you come to sell your car, if you have a log book that details all servicing and maintenance and provides a full history of your car, it is seen as an asset and adds value to your car. As a building owner, if you are able to provide a full record of your building, illustrating upgrades and improvements and documenting performance, it can only add value to that asset.
Furthermore, Sofie highlighted the challenge of managing the Golden Thread once a building is in operation. As part of the review, clear accountability and responsibility are allocated to newly defined roles – an accountable person or duty holder who would be accountable for the structural and fire safety of the whole building during the occupation phase and the new statutory role of the building safety manager who will support the accountable person and who is responsible for the day to day building management. This new building safety manager role and its necessary skills and competency are still to be defined, especially if they are to maintain technical information in a competent manner. In addition to new skills, there is the issue of cost – like other parts of this new process, there will be a cost to this.
Cost will also have a big effect on whether the building is new or existing. Applying the Golden Thread to a new build would be much easier than applying to an existing building. It is also easier to incentivise as suggested by Sofie, “no new building should be put into operation until all required information has been submitted and verified”. But this all comes back to the big question - what is the information that is required?
Whilst the Golden Thread was initially focused on HRRBs (Higher Risk Residential Buildings) the panel welcomed the potential widening of it to include buildings below 18 meters and where there is sleeping risk – “ultimately we are talking about risk and safety, regardless of building height or type” added Sofie.
The debate concluded with the question – is the Golden Thread an excuse for not doing anything? Are we waiting to be told what to do and what it looks like?
Miller stated “we can do it, it just takes a willingness. The big issue is that everyone wants someone else to do it first and incur the cost of implementation”. Tom added that “We need to be on a common page. We need to agree what is the minimum amount of viable information that we need, and we may need new standards to help us define this. It also has to be done purposely and we have to ensure that the relevant information is gained from the start.”
It is clear the Golden Thread is essential if we are to reduce risk and create safer buildings. However, the big issue lies in what it looks like and how will it be implemented to ensure it is meaningful and accurate. I completely agree with all of the panellists in terms of the Golden Thread being achievable but, we need to define what it looks like. Defining it won’t be easy and we may need to call on Government to help us do this, but the point is the industry is willing and able, we just need someone to start the ball rolling and create a minimum requirement for which we can all work to. An aspiration yes, but it is achievable.