Devan Mistry is associate director (strategic BIM lead) at McBains
The construction sector has been awaiting clear direction from the government on the implementation of the Building Safety Act 2023’s golden thread for some time, so it was no surprise that the response by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) on digital implications and roles left the industry with several questions.
In principle, the three-gateway check system has always seemed like a very logical and well-structured process, with key stakeholders being involved at all stages during the decision-making and a single point of contact – the Building Safety Regulator – responsible for regulatory checks.
“The sector needs to keep better records and this will be resource-intensive, but there is opportunity here for us to digitally upskill”
However, this system can only work if there are statutory laws and guidance in place for maintaining a golden thread of information. It is also reliant on a fail-safe digital platform of sorts that has the capacity to assess hundreds of schemes at any given time – if not, then teams, clients and most importantly residents will feel significant delays in either a return on their investment or moving into their new home.
My view is the golden thread should be intended to ensure that the people managing high-risk buildings have access to all the data they need to protect residents’ safety. It should be a means of maintaining accurate information on schemes from the initial planning and design stages right through to ongoing operations and renovations. Most importantly, the Building Safety Act is there to ensure the golden thread of information is kept in a digital format to make it accessible and easy to update.
Finding the right fit
The DLUHC will not mandate particular coding standards or exchange mechanisms as a solution for the whole industry. Instead, duty holders will agree digital solutions that work for them as a project team. As long as the information can be transferred throughout the building’s lifecycle and handed over to the responsible person at building completion, I believe this is workable but falls short of an ideal solution. Organisations can be flexible and mobile, but it relies on the digital competency and abilities of the building owner to be aligned – this is not often possible due to varying budgets for different operators.
The DLUHC acknowledges information must be kept secure, but it does not mandate how it is recorded and so organisations need to decide what is most appropriate to their needs. The DLUHC “expects that digital systems that automatically record changes to information and documents will play a larger part in this process”. However, there are currently very few automated, process-driven platforms that record information-change, and this fails to realise that the construction process brings together a range of disciplines, working in multiple software types with various data-export requirements and variations.
One solution here could be a collaboration between a cloud-based system (which hold design information such as BIM models, drawings etc.) and a robust change-management CDE (common data environment) software. By combining the platforms, change statuses can be transitioned from ‘WIP’ to ‘shared’ to ‘published’ in a controlled manner, with key stakeholders responsible for reviews and checks. The acceptance and rejection criteria for fire-safety information can be built into the system.
Perhaps most importantly for design teams and principal designers, the guidance states that we need to ensure that our clients are aware of their duties before starting any work, and it would be expected that, at the same time, we make the client aware of their duties regarding the golden thread. For me, this is probably the most significant and direct impact on projects, in that the way we approach schemes is changing.
As significant improvements in transparency on all sides are made, the sector needs to keep better records of documentation and this will be resource-intensive, but there is opportunity here for us to digitally upskill, making the best use of the tools out there. By aiming to get ahead of the curve, we can ensure that the digital processes for information-management, health and safety and BIM, will place our clients in a strong position to demonstrate their duty-holder responsibilities when the time comes.