Written evidence submitted by the Institution of Structural Engineers [BSB 250]


  1. About the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE)


    1. IStructE is a charity with Royal Charter. Its primary object concerns public safety and this is manifest in the provision of examinations, education, the sharing of information and best practice in all its relevant forms to equip structural engineers create and work towards a built environment that is safe for all who use it.


    1. We are the Competent Authority for the profession of structural engineering in the UK through the award of the title Chartered Structural Engineer as recognised in The European Union (Recognition of Professional Qualifications) Regulations 2015.


    1. Established over 110 years ago, the Institution has more than 35000 members in some 100 countries. Its examined qualifications are amongst the most stringent tests of competence undertaken by structural engineers anywhere in the world and professional membership of the Institution is also dependent on mandatory provision of evidence of Continuing Professional Development. As appropriate we offer additional examinations in specialist topics and now provide access to specialist registers for our more experienced chartered members. 


    1. Structural Engineers Registration Ltd (SER Ltd) is a wholly owned trading subsidiary of The Institution of Structural Engineers and was formed, with the support of The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), to provide and manage registration schemes for the certification of design of building structures. It is appointed by the Scottish Government's Building Standards Division to administer a scheme for Certification of Design (Building Structures) in Scotland.


    1. In partnership with ICE and with sponsorship from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) since inception, IStructE operates Structural-Safety, a grouping of considerable professional expertise who work with industry on safety matters concerned with the design, construction and use of structures. Structural-Safety has two entities:


    1. Through grant funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), there is currently an active programme of work underway to support a widened remit for CROSS which will become operational in the early part of 2021. This is a precursor within the current draft Bill for the Building Safety Regulator to oversee the operation of a voluntary reporting scheme for information about building safety to include fire safety in addition to structural safety within its remit. This activity also affirms our commitment to take heed of Dame Judith’s call for industry to respond and act responsibly in advance of legislation.


    1. The Institution through the expertise of its members and staff has engaged fully with industry collaborative reviews into improvements demanded in Dame Judith Hackitt’s post Grenfell Tower review and, with Government consultation and engagement that has led to the Draft Safety Bill. Via this consultation response we bring forward commentary that we trust will assist in truly achieving the step-change in process, competence and culture necessary to minimise future critical risk and to ensure the safest possible built environment for the public at large.



  1. Introduction


    1. The Institution of Structural Engineers welcomes the response and commitment of Government in bringing forward the draft Building Safety Bill as a follow-on and wholly necessary response to underpin Dame Judith Hackitt’s “Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.


    1. The Hackitt Inquiry made clear that the Grenfell disaster had exposed inadequacies in the current system for managing the design, construction, management and occupation of our built environment with regard to the safety of the public. By definition of the brief set by Government for Dame Judith’s inquiry, her terms of reference were narrowly focused on “high rise and higher-risk residential buildings.”


    1. These basic definitions informed the post inquiry consultation and this has broadly been replicated into the basic concepts of the draft Bill. Like many other industry commentators and respondents at all phases of the considerable collaborative consultative process, we consider the Bill in its current draft form as too limited in scope. This is capable of remedy with comparatively minor adjustment.


    1. We are greatly concerned that if such issues are not addressed now, they may well not be addressed until after a next critical instance. In this regard, we believe the Bill as drafted falls short of meeting the Governments own laudable policy intentions.


    1. Our anticipation is that other Professional Bodies will address the systemic shortcomings within their own professional disciplines. Our Institution response is to focus on structural safety as it relates to the queries set out in the consultation.


    1. The objectives of the draft Bill are to learn the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire and to remedy the systemic issues identified by Dame Judith Hackitt by strengthening the whole regulatory system for building safety. Our interpretation of the draft Bill is that whilst the whole regulatory system might have been reviewed, the resultant draft is a Bill that ignores the significant risk to potential loss of life in building types that have been determined as “out of scope.” We cannot believe that is the intention of Government and, as a professional body whose charitable objectives concern public safety, it would be remiss of us not to expose via this consultation our profound concern at these omissions.


  1. Higher Risk Buildings and the Regulator’s objectives


    1. For the initial purposes of the Bill, “higher-risk buildings” are clearly defined by the height characteristics of the building structure and its use for residential purposes and most especially multi-occupancy residency. In the context of the Grenfell Tower fire then such a definition is articulate and appropriate.


    1. The draft Bill is very particular in its assessment that the major incident hazards in scope for safety management in a higher-risk building would largely be rapid onset escalating fire, structural, or explosive events. Having considered other types of hazards we note that Government expects that expansion to other building safety risks in the future is likely to be minimal and therefore has no current plans for the higher-risk building regime to extend beyond the risks of fire and structural integrity.


    1. Whilst fully understanding the focus on fire risk, we are perplexed at the lack of direct acknowledgement of the critical importance of structural safety and integrity in the classified actions surrounding the definition of higher risk buildings in the draft Bill.


    1. One of the Regulator’s objectives under the proposed primary legislation is “securing the safety of people in or about buildings in relation to risks” and under secondary legislation, provision is being proposed to provide scope for considering whether (other) specified descriptions of building should be classed as higher risk buildings. Implicit to this definition is consideration that if the risk materialised, it would have the potential to cause a major incident.


    1. The intended application of this secondary legislation is that either the Secretary of State or the Regulator can bring forward requests for consideration to include other building types as higher risk. We would be pleased to help with the identification of other types of building.


    1. Approved Document A in section 3 (table 11) deals specifically with disproportionate collapse of buildings and makes clear reference to the scope of buildings intended to be covered by the current Building Regulation.


    1. This represents a very clear delineation for extending the scope of the proposed Building Safety Bill in primary legislation. Under secondary legislation proposals, both the Regulator and/or the Secretary of State can call for consideration whether a higher-risk building ceases to be considered as such.


    1. We believe that in terms of delivering the Government’s policy objectives and in the interests of safety of public use of building structures, a Bill that includes high-risk structures as presently defined plus the inclusion of others that have already been deemed suitably higher risk (by virtue of their inclusion within the scope of Approved Document 3a) makes for better public safeguarding and ultimately better regulation.


    1. The onus is then on the Regulator and/or Secretary of State to use the secondary legislation as currently intended to de-register based on appropriate consultation and evidence.


    1. Approved Document A by reason of its very existence already provides  the necessary evidence that structures covered by its limitations are, indeed, higher risk.


    1. We respectfully draw the attention of the Consultation Review Group to a submission from Structural Safety. They demonstrate with reference to a range of building failures with fatalities that such structures would have fallen outside the scope and context of the draft Building Safety Bill. We believe that bringing similar buildings within scope should be a logical and ethical extension of the new proposed legislation.


    1. Reference to the Structural Safety submission will also demonstrate that critical high-risk buildings do not necessarily conform to the draft Bill’s height benchmark and significantly might also bring into consideration risk to and from peripheral structures and the environment.


    1. The preparation of Safety Cases for the gateway processes will rely heavily on the expertise of structural engineers and we suggest that this factor should be included in the Bill.



  1. Residents and their formal role within in Residents’ panels.


    1. IStructE fully supports the formal recognition of Residents’ panels and the role of the Regulator to establish these with the participation of defined “relevant persons.


    1. In adopting our proposed widening of the definition of “higher risk buildings”  there would need to be a broadening of intent to include all occupiers of higher risk buildings whether or not defined as resident.


    1. This will require some re-working on the intent and proposals for stand-alone Resident’s Groups but is we believe, entirely consistent in working towards a safer environment for all.


  1. Mandatory and Voluntary Reporting Schemes.


    1. We support the notion of mandatory and voluntary reporting schemes in support of improving overall building safety and believe this to be an important development arising from Dame Judith Hackitt’s inquiry.


    1. Whilst we recognise and welcome the current proposals for expansion of CROSS as a voluntary scheme, we do believe the operation of such a scheme should most definitely sit outside the control and operation of the Building Safety Regulator and believe that the primary legislation should remove the option for the Regulator to opt to carry out this function.


    1. The effectiveness of voluntary schemes depends on confidentiality and freedom to report that must always be free from potential conflicts in complying with other matters within the control of the regulator.
  1. Competence


    1. We note that for the most part, detailed arrangements in respect of competence of Built Environment Professionals and others engaged working on structures within scope, will be developed under the scope of secondary legislation. Whilst we acknowledge the complexity of the overarching competency review, we note with disappointment, that the “Raising the Bar” final report into sector competency is not yet available to enable consideration alongside consideration of the draft Bill. This reduces complete visibility between the intention for specific action/activity to be defined within Primary Legislation (such as a power for the Architects Registration Board to monitor competence of the architects on their register) and much of the rest which remains “work in progress.


    1. The net effect underplays the significance of critical risk factors defined as fire and structural safety and thus fails to consider competency requirements with those whose role is primarily and significantly related to fire and structural matters. In particular the need for appropriately qualified and experienced structural engineers and fire engineers to be engaged at all stages of the design and construction process.


    1. We note that the intended Building Advisory Committee will review the structural safety of buildings and yet there is no articulation of the composition of skills and experience envisaged on that Committee. We strongly recommend and urge that the Institution of Structural Engineers be named as a statutory consultee in the nomination of structural engineering expertise (either from within or outside its own Membership) to the Building Advisory Committee.


    1. We note the creation of a Competence Committee and for the reasons cited above, we strongly recommend and urge that the Institution of Structural Engineers be named as a statutory consultee in the nomination of structural engineering expertise (either from within or outside its own Membership) to the Competence Committee.


    1. With specific reference to Part 39, 5c(2) (a) we strongly recommend that this clause be amended to include “appropriate qualifications” as well as the current draft Bill inclusion of skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours.


    1. In the field of Structural Engineering, it is inconceivable that professional practitioners operating on higher-risk structures will not have a demonstrable record of tested competence and qualification in structural engineering at the highest levels in addition to the substantial experience and behaviours as demanded of Engineering Professional Bodies.


    1. To operate at this level should we believe, require a legal minimum stated competence threshold. To this end, we are in early discussions with MHCLG and the HSE on structural safety registers of competence and will be happy to make ourselves available to discuss these issues with those reviewing the inputs to this consultation.






  1. Culture


  1. There is significant expectation that to achieve many of the improvements outlined in the draft bill, a change in attitude and culture of the sector and the sector workforce will be required.  We understand, accept and acknowledge that view and as a professional organisation undertake to play whatever role is necessary to support that change of culture and to do so collaboratively in partnership with others.


  1. The requirement of defining structures within the scope of the initial Bill focused on complexity and critical risk factors and hence our call to widen the immediate scope to include structures covered under  Approved Building Regulation 3A. Not only is that the right way to approach public safety but there are parallels in some of the competency requirements of those working on such structures.


  1. Culturally, if Government wish to support a step-change in behaviour then as part of the process, we must rapidly move beyond a point where one set of standards, behaviours and competencies are deemed acceptable on one type of building structure and a different set are required on another categorisation of structure. Early harmonisation is essential and this further reinforces our call for a widening of scope from the outset.


  1. In Conclusion

In the areas on which the Institution of Structural Engineers considers it is qualified to comment, we believe that:

  1. There are substantive grounds on which to extend the scope of “higher-risk buildings” and that this is predicated on a reverse rationale that allows the Regulator and Secretary of State to subsequently take structures out of category rather than the current proposal to provide justification at a later stage for moving structures within scope.
  2. The significance of structural safety as one of the identified critical safety factors has been understated within the draft Bill especially as it applies to the competence framework of the profession. We have recommended some minor adjustments that can be incorporated with minimal collateral impact.
  3. Making a clear and absolute differential between the role of the Regulator and the provider of the voluntary reporting scheme will require minor drafting changes.
  4. Inclusion of all who use in-scope buildings is required and this will mean re-defining the way in which occupant groups will work beyond the acknowledged importance of residential representation.
  5. Culture change is primarily the responsibility of the sector but can be enriched by the positive support and encouragement of Government. The broadening of the scope of structures covered under the act will make a significant difference to the sector in the introduction of new ways of working and improved behavioural awareness and responsibility.


With these changes, we believe that the proposed Building Safety Bill will meet the Governments own policy intentions with regard to structural safety and with those provisos, the Institution of Structural Engineers would be strongly supportive.




September 2020