Creating a Safety Case Review

Authored by Martin Grossmith, Chartered Building Engineer – Property Services, at Clarion Housing Group

21 August 2019

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy on 14 June 2017, and the subsequent release of the Hackitt Review, housing associations have been carrying out considerably more complex and in-depth building investigations into high-rise buildings.

I joined Clarion in August 2018. My role was to project lead a team tasked with developing a new process for meeting the objectives of the Hackitt Review and Safety Case Review files. I brought with me over 30 years of experience in the housing industry, specialising in the practice of building pathology and defect diagnosis across many housing forms, including high-rise residential buildings.

Where did we start?

We identified a list of 27 high-rise buildings to be inspected, prioritised first by risk (based on construction, height, etc.) and then by geographical area, grouping properties in close proximity.

Two buildings were selected for our pilot in creating Safety Case Review files. The first was a 1970s 12-storey building (an in-depth description of this building can be foundon our website). Prior to an onsite survey, a review of all previously held background information was conducted, which included:

  • previous planning applications
  • current and past fire risk assessments
  • health and safety records, including any post-fire reports
  • asbestos register/records
  • compliance records and certification of all third party installations
  • asbestos information
  • water and telecommunications information
  • a review of all previous surveys, and sampling/testing at the block, which included a type four (invasive) survey by a reputable consultancy company.

Given the age of such buildings (approximately 50+ years) limited information existed on the initial design/construction phase and previous investment works.

How did we tackle missing information?

We commissioned a set of comprehensive measured drawings, at significant cost. It was at this stage, given the costs and timeframes involved with producing 2D representation, that the team looked at alternatives.

The Hackitt Review’s reference to the ‘golden thread of information’ for each high-rise residential block highlighted a need for change in the current methods of record keeping on buildings, requiring a digital record for every building.

With this in mind, we felt that the benefits for creating full 3D models of existing buildings, in comparison to production of less-detailed 2D drawings, was clear. The use of 3D modelling would not only support the requirements of the Hackitt Review in meeting the ‘golden thread’ – maintaining a digital record would also benefit asset management across the business in both time and monetary value.

How did our pilot of 3D modelling go?

The 3D modelling was completed in approximately four days (by complete novices, myself included!). With the assistance of an external consultant, the data recorded was built into a workable 3D model.

The ease of use of this model has since allowed the team to tag significant asset data captured from the building scan, which can now be shared throughout the business, as well as providing an accessible 3D model for the purpose of fire and life safety.

A 3D fly-through of the communal parts and escape routes, highlighting all protected areas and locations of fire fighting equipment within the block, is being produced to assist with the resident engagement process providing information on building management, fire and life safety.

How did we create our Safety Case Review?

As there was no current ‘model’ for the process of undertaking a Safety Case Review of an existing building, I employed previous experience and knowledge, while applying building pathology techniques to survey the building. Full details of this survey can be found on our website – but I can tell you it was the most comprehensive and time-consuming survey of my career!

While the Safety Case Review provides focus on maintaining the safety of the residents occupying buildings, consideration was also given to the building in general, regarding compliance with both physical construction and services and fire safety installations.

The preparation of the Safety Case Review was achieved using the information gathered from both pre- and post-survey data of the building, as well as information on construction layout and design identified from the 3D modelling process. This identified peculiarities with the layout, prompting further investigation. A breakdown of the content of the file can be found on our website.

The Safety Case Review now is seen as a live document and will be subject to regular review, and ongoing updates. Reviews will be governed by both time and alteration of building post major investment works likely to affect safety case rating. The document will be stored electronically and be available for digital publication.

What did we learn?

Overall, it has been a rewarding and valuable exercise. We’ve learned a huge amount about our buildings, our residents and ourselves. We feel that carrying this out ‘internally’ has made the process smoother, quicker and more effective than if we had outsourced.

Robust technical capability in the organisation is critical. We’ve learned that the creation of a Safety Case Review file is an important document and has fundamentally made our organisation question how we can manage high-rise residential buildings.

We’ve learned that the creation of the digital record is not just feasible, but relatively easy to do on a small scale. There needs to be a social housing industry standard for the data side – this will really help with the codification.

We’ve learned that we didn’t know as much about the buildings as we thought we did.