By Allison “Alli” Scott
Earlier this year, the UK’s Building Safety Act passed into law to reset safety standards in the country following 2017’s Grenfell Tower fire disaster. The legislation, which should take another year for most of its provisions to come into effect, creates a new safety regime for the construction and operations of high-rise residential buildings and holds the promise of significant change for the entire construction and facilities management industry. Every business involved in the construction process will now need to reconsider how they collect, track and manage critical building information throughout the entire lifecycle to meet the new bill’s requirements – and the use of connected construction technology will be paramount.
As the UK moves in the right direction to innovate building safety standards, US infrastructure ranks 13th in the world and has consistently scored D ratings. Sadly, the US recently saw its highest score in 20 years with a C- infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The reason this is especially disappointing is that America ranks second in road infrastructure spending, but still ranks in 60th place for road safety, clearly demonstrating that money alone will not solve these problems. More robust solutions are absolutely necessary.
Major improvements are set to come with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which targets US infrastructure that desperately needs to be updated. Just as importantly, it will also examine how various construction processes can be more sustainable for the environment, how to provide more secure conditions for workers, and ways to make industry practices more efficient without sacrificing safety.
These lofty goals may sound daunting, but the UK bill has set the precedent for an infrastructure overhaul of this scale that the US can emulate to ensure these objectives are successful.
In the UK, failing to meet these building safety obligations will result in fines and criminal charges, which are likely to be factors in regulating the IIJA in the US as well. Logically, it is likely to follow that owners and insurers will refuse the risk of working with non-compliant organizations. To avoid these added costs and the risk of becoming uninsured, it will be most prudent to take a proactive approach to prepare for impending building regulations. With more transparency between contractors and building owners, there will be better congruency between project vision and project reality, giving contractors the chance to build right the first time with added accountability throughout the project lifecycle. Reducing rework is a growing area of concern, especially as the cost of building materials and equipment has skyrocketed, and uncertainty in market pricing continues to loom.
While the market prepares for the next round of IIJA grants to be released, Infrastructure is poised to use advanced digital construction management technologies at all points of the project lifecycle, throughout design, preconstruction, construction and operations. The IIJA dictates that these technologies and digital workflows should improve multiple outcomes for the project and for the teams; including boosting productivity, managing complexity, reducing project delays and cost overruns, and enhancing safety and quality. Digital construction technologies used on IIJA projects are also required to maximize interoperability with other systems, meaning that open AP Is between applications, and strong connected workflows between systems will be paramount to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. Another major requirement in the IIJA focuses on reporting, calling for state governments that use the funding to share progress reports detailing the technology’s implementation on its projects annually.
Establishing accurate recordkeeping of how construction projects are completed among building owners may not sound exciting, but it is still vitally important for building trust, accountability and improving quality of future work over time. All organizations will need to revisit how as built information is collected and stored which—given that records will need to be kept for the life of an asset—will more than likely necessitate digitizing records if they have not already been digitized during the pandemic. Data management and security will be even more important to monitor closely as more records are expected to migrate online amid a growing cybersecurity threat. Moving processes like documentation and recordkeeping from analog to digital also represents opportunities to not only improve asset management through digital twins, but also improve the way in which future infrastructure is designed and built as they become reference points for performance benchmarks, especially as computational analysis and generative design capabilities continue to mature.
In the UK’s Building Safety Act, building owners are required to establish clear lines of responsibility with a designated “Accountable Person” for each stage of decision-making, from planning and construction to turnover and occupation. Developers in the UK are waiting for the impending establishment of a national regulatory agency for construction products and there will likely be a similar regulatory organization set up in the US as the IIJA grants further roll out. As a result, UK developers and contractors are retaining samples of all building materials in an accessible location in the event of an inspection from one of these regulatory agencies. Regulations are set to affect everyone from authorities to individual subcontractors – and every collaborator along the supply chain.
While regulations will impact new projects, the biggest impact will be felt by existing building owners who will need to work backward to trace their compliance, audit their existing records, and replace outdated safety plans. Building owners will need to produce documents for the building’s registration, certification, mandatory occurrence reporting, and resident engagement. Building owners must establish the current state of the building in their records and not just the specs of the original design.
These records should also include a guide that informs how to maintain a building to keep it in a safe condition throughout the life of the structure, and the UK legislation appoints a position to be responsible for these safety protocols. In the event of an emergency, building owners should plan for this information to be easily accessible, understandable, and up to date. However, safety protocols should not just be reactionary; there should be an emphasis on maintenance with the goal of prevention as well.
Ultimately, the passage of building safety laws should be looked at as an opportunity to digitally upskill the construction industry while boosting efficiency, sustainability, and productivity. It may be challenging at first, but the pandemic has already jump started the digital transformation of construction and our industry has shown we are more than capable of adapting given the right support, investment and innovation. The US will have the added benefit of learning from the UK’s approach to introducing new regulations for building safety and data management to better prepare for the expected changes in the industry and unlock unseen potential in the built environment.
Allison “Alli” Scott is Director, Customer Experience & Industry Advocacy at Autodesk. Leveraging over a decade in the architecture and construction industries, Alli is a “technology translator” who supports customer experience and industry advocacy within the Customer Success team at Autodesk. She oversees the strategy and execution of customer-centric programs that complement the customer journey to help construction teams gain the most value out of their technology investments, and foster loyalty and trust. Alli has been a key contributor for Autodesk’s leading-edge approach to customer engagement, including a highly rated global executive council program, a growing online community, and industry impact programs that help bring awareness to industry issues. Prior to Autodesk, she supported the national Innovation group of Skanska USA’s construction division helping to investigate and integrate game-changing tech like BIM/VDC, wearables, IoT/sensors, and drones onto the jobsite, and built business strategy for new products and services inspired by innovation endeavors. Alli holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Arts Management from Emerson College and an MBA in Innovation and Design Management from Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School. When not exploring the next great emerging tech, Alli can be found tending to her herb garden or spending time along the rocky shores of Massachusetts or lakeside in Maine with her architect-husband and young son