Clause 8 - Duty to establish system for giving of building safety information

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 16th September 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Clause 8 relates to the establishment and operation of a voluntary occurrence reporting system about building safety.

The Government recognise the success of voluntary occurrence reporting systems in improving the safety of industry the world over, including in the UK built environment. We agree with recommendation 1.4 (c) of the independent review, which asks that such a system be in existence under the new building safety regime. The clause contributes to its implementation.

The clause requires the Building Safety Regulator to make arrangements for a person to establish and operate a voluntary occurrence reporting system about building safety. Under the system, structural or fire-safety related information that is seen by the reporter as an actual or potential risk to building or life safety will be reported through an online portal. We expect the person operating the system to then receive, anonymise, analyse and publish those reports online. In doing so, the system will allow important lessons learned to be shared across industry, prompting stakeholders to proactively identify and resolve issues before they escalate. To give an example, if a contractor were to report safety issues with a fire door, that intelligence could be shared across industry, allowing others to identify and resolve any issue at their own sites. The person working on the incident can report it through the voluntary occurrence reporting system, where it is then analysed and published by the person operating that system.

I stress that the objective of voluntary reporting is the prevention of accidents and incidents, not to attribute blame or liability, or for it to be used as a tool for enforcement. It is about surfacing issues as quickly and transparently as possible. To ensure that that happens, the system will be operated by a person other than the Building Safety Regulator. Voluntary occurrence reporting will ensure that occurrences not serious enough to be captured by the mandatory occurrence reporting system are still reported, recorded and shared. Those two reporting systems, along with whistleblowing, will complement one another to instil a safety-conscious, just culture in industry. By voluntarily reporting an issue, important details and lessons learned are shared with industry. This release of intelligence will increase industry awareness of issues and enable workers to better identify and resolve them should they occur elsewhere, averting dangers that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

This sounds like a very sensible proposal. I am only surprised that it does not already exist in the construction industry—but, then, so many of us are ceasing to be surprised given the sheer mess that has been going on. Under the proposals in the Bill, will the reporting be made public such that users, leaseholders and residents of a building are aware of the reports, in case the building owners do not themselves make the residents or leaseholders aware?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We want information to be as transparent and as available as possible. That is one reason for it going through a filter—for it to be properly analysed and assessed before it might be reported on. Whistleblowing is a tried and tested—almost traditionally British—way of doing things when it comes to surfacing unpalatable matters in business, as well as in the public sector. We want to find as many effective means as possible of identifying issues and raising them quickly so that they can be addressed, creating an airline-industry approach to issues, in which we are looking not to blame or point the finger but simply to identify and almost—I use this word advisedly—celebrate errors and issues, so that when people identify an issue it is second nature for them to raise it so it can be fixed as rapidly as possible.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I will give way once more to the hon. Lady, and then I should probably make a bit of progress.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

I recognise that. Let us say that a building owner recognises and realises, for instance, that the Pincher Weaver fire door is not safe—for the record, this is an imaginary scenario; there is no such thing as the Pincher Weaver fire door. If residents in another building realise or suspect that the fire doors in their block may be the Pincher Weaver ones, but their building owners or managers do not highlight this, will they have ways of finding out that the Pincher Weaver fire door that appears to be in their block is dangerous, and that they need to highlight it? That is why I am asking whether this information will be in the public domain.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:45 pm, 16th September 2021

We will work closely with the Building Safety Regulator to ensure that such information is properly identified, assessed and made public. It may be that the Pincher-Weaver fire door—I have never seen one, but I look forward to accruing the royalties if one exists—is assessed such that there is not a problem with it. Clearly we do not want information to be made public as if the voluntary occurrence reporting system is Twitter, but I will make it my business to ensure that it is as properly public as possible within the usual constraints.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

This system is a welcome and essential step, and was recommended, as the Minister said, by the independent review. My only question is, how will it be closely monitored? To take one example—it is not from this country—residents in Florida spoke about the concrete system and evidence of cracks and creaking. The proposed system would pick that up, so that is a welcome step forward, but we must closely monitor it going forward.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

I will keep my comments brief. Like other hon. Members, I support the clause. The key thing for me is that the Building Safety Regulator will sit within the HSE, which already has structures and competences to deal with these issues, particularly in terms of whistleblowing and sharing information. I completely agree with the sentiment that information must be accessible so people can make informed decisions off the back of it, and that it is used in the right way to mitigate and head off any issues that may present.

The underlying structures developed through the Bill enable the clause to be operationally sound. We have the competence and experience to enable the systems to be put in place. We need to see what those systems will look like. I hope that they will be robust and can be used as envisaged by my right hon. Friend the Minister. The sharing of information and the ability to access it are at the core of these issues, and will be vital to ensuring that the delivery of the clause’s aspirations is sound.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Committee for its consideration of the clause. The Government want to ensure that information that is relevant to concerns is properly captured, properly assessed and properly communicated. We also want to ensure that there is an effective monitoring regime for such a voluntary occurrence reporting system, and we will work closely with the Building Safety Regulator to enable that monitoring system to be put in place. I do not want to prescribe in Committee how the system will work; it will be for the regulator, in consultation with the Department and other experts, to define how that should be done most effectively.

As I am sure the Committee understands, in driving a culture change towards more transparency, we must be careful about how this information is used. We would not want an unintended consequence to develop whereby people at the coalface are disinclined to report something because the reporting becomes so very public that they may think it will become a big issue for them. We must therefore keep the reporting in proportion. We also have to make sure it is appropriately shared so that those who need to know do know and can take action or can check their own systems to make sure that they are also somehow not inoperative. I have used too many double negatives, so I shall stop there and commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.