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4 Pillars for Rebuilding Trust Around Safety and Compliance in Buildings

Consider four best practices In pursuit of greater safety, governance and compliance in buildings.

Tall glass buildings

Establishing effective safety protocols and achieving regulatory compliance in commercial real estate (CRE) can be a real challenge in light of the complexity of modern buildings, the myriad of materials used and constantly evolving building codes. Unfortunately, several high-profile cases of significant building failures have made headlines around the world, eroding trust in the safety and compliance protocols used in buildings. 

  • The tragic fire in the Grenfell Tower in London, claimed the lives of 72 people and left over 300 homeless. 

  • In Opal Tower in Sydney, Australia, concrete panels cracked due to deviations in design and manufacturer, posing risk to building occupants.  

  • Constructed with flammable cladding, Neo200 in Melbourne, Australia, caught on fire, displacing hundreds of families.

According to the PSU Research Review, on average, 3.8 million fires cause 443,000 deaths each year globally. According to that same report, total loss from global fire hazards accounts for about one percent of the world gross domestic product (GDP), or a staggering $858.9 billion (USD). These and other cases point to a clear need for greater attention to safety, compliance and governance in construction and real estate management.  

Referencing recommendations proposed in the Hackitt Review led by Dame Judith Hackitt in response to the Grenfell Tower disaster, and taking a practical approach to pursuing information and accountability, real estate stakeholders can put four pillars in place to begin pursuing greater safety, governance and compliance.

  • Culture of accountability — With so many stakeholders involved, from government inspectors to tenants, building owners and facilities managers, individuals may find it challenging to understand where their responsibility ends and another’s begins. Creating a culture of accountability involves assigning tasks, verifying action and ensuring responsibilities are clear. This requires communication and effective means of tracking activity. Software solutions offer an effective way to do this. Communication is also key to developing a culture of accountability.

  • Digital records/data  —  Many commercial real estate companies lack visibility across large portfolios of buildings. Even with the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT), IP security systems and other advanced technologies, according to MRI’s The State of Real Estate Technology report, an estimated 42% of real estate managers maintain data in hard copy and/or spreadsheets, making it extremely difficult to quickly access accurate, updated information on safety inspections, warranties, tenant complaints and observations, or other information. The digitization of data creates visibility and provides decision makers with the insight they need to identify trends, red flags or deviations.

  • Third party testing and certification  —  Particularly where building materials, electrical components and others are concerned, third party testing and certification offer consistency and reliability when it comes to safety and performance testing of everything from building materials to mechanical systems, fire prevention systems and virtually any items used in buildings. Third party testing and certification can help CRE stakeholders mitigate risk when it comes to a combination of factors that can result in unfortunate events.

  • Tenant-centric  —  While buildings are a compilation of materials, spaces and structures, the people who live, work and play in buildings put their trust in these buildings and the people who construct, own and care for them. It is easy to get caught up in the detail of an individual fire or elevator inspection, the urgency of installation of a building material to keep the construction timeline on track, but what lies in the balance is peoples’ lives. In some of the high-profile cases above, tenants reported red flags, voiced safety concerns or asked questions. However, in many cases this feedback was sidelined or simply did not have the process to run it up the chain to management.

With these critical pillars in place, CRE owners and managers can help rebuild trust in a post-Grenfell world.