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“The need for a ‘Golden Thread’ of information… So that the original design intent is preserved and changes can be managed through a formal review process.” – Building a Safer Future 8.4

When the Grenfell Tower incident occurred on 14th June 2017, 72 people lost their lives with more than 70 others injured. In the weeks after the tragedy, an Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety was announced by the government. This review was to be led by Dame Judith Hackitt with the final report published less than a year after the incident.

The review heard an almost “unanimous concern surrounding the ineffective operation of the current rules around the creation, maintenance and handover of buildings and fire safety information”. Where the information had been available is was often incomplete or held in paper format that was often not accessible to the people who need to see it.

  • This lack of information raised a number of challenges. These ranged from what substitutions had been made between the original design and the completion of construction through to what effects this could have had on the whole building safety. Imagine not knowing what was in your house and if it had actually been designed to keep you safe?

    Almost like a shockwave through the construction industry, the need for the supply chain to supply digital models that embraced a full structured digital record that could be used to produce a digital twin was required. However, why was this such a challenge?

    Back in 2016, the government had mandated that all public contracts procured by central government departments needed to be BIM Level 2 compliant by April 2016. However, a report in April 2017 by NBS stated that “the government is not enforcing the mandate.” 3 months before the Grenfell tragedy, 50% of the respondents stated that the construction industry had not as a whole taken up the BIM challenge.

  • Even when the challenge is taken, and the supply chain adopts universal BIM Standards that can provide models and data that enables the holistic approach to design, the construction industry is failing to support this. An associate at Allies and Morrison stated at the recent Construction Product Leaders’ Summit that “Architects and Specifiers are still on occasion being refused access to sites during the construction phase. Not knowing that substitutions are happening means that the overall design could be comprised without anyone knowing about it.”

    Consider that for a second. A practice that led the design overlay of the public areas of the Olympic Park for use during the Games as well as a number of other key historic London venues of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), are being refused access to see what is going on with projects that they designed. How can a ‘Golden Thread’ exist if parties are blocked after their part in the overall project?

    Whilst the building regulations and fire safety review looked predominantly at Higher Risk Residential Buildings (HRRBs), the overall changes need to be adopted by the whole construction industry. From the perimeter to the heating systems, the fire suppression systems to the escape routes the only way to have a true concept to completion and beyond system is a universal approach.

  • End clients need to know the whole building life cycle with an accountability to the information held. Think in the terms of Facilities Management (FM). For example, a specified product has a life cycle of 15 years but it is substituted for a product with a life cycle of 5 years and you aren’t informed of this. What is the affect?

    Well the substituted product may have been cheaper at construction, but that same product would need to be replaced with similar at least twice to give the same product life cycle as the originally specified one. Further, if this reduced life cycle isn’t known then the failure due to presumed life cycle could result in either impact on other systems or at worst a breakdown in the safety and security of the overall project.

    This is why mandating a ‘Golden Thread’ with universal structured data allows the comparison between products and an open BIM environment that shares a collaborative work space means that informed choice can take place. We recently demonstrated the difference a single mm makes in a fence panel in the video below, imagine the impact this could have on other systems.

As Dame Hackitt said the future needs to be about outcomes and not prescriptions. New regulations need to be simple, robust and prevent people and organisations working around them. As manufacturers we must lead with providing information, but the onus is upon the specifiers to interact and seek advice. The construction phase needs to be about the whole life cycle of the product and project and not a race to the bottom for a quick saving.

The end user must be empowered with the knowledge and information that is supported with a digital twin that allows a comprehensive maintenance and review process to be established. Information on warranties and guarantees needs to be at the forefront and not consigned to the small print.

But most importantly manufacturers need to hold ‘Product Stewardship’ beyond just selling it onwards. Installers need to be shown how the correct installation has to be carried. Standards and certification need to be enforced and monitored. As manufacturers we hold a “social contribution to the country” to make sure we start a ‘Golden thread’ and see it through.