David Roebuck and Michelle Barkley report on the revised standards and regulations intended to make the upkeep and repair of a building's façade safer by design
11 August 2006
The majority of new structures have been designed to accommodate the needs of the maintenance contractor. Yet a sizeable minority were erected with little or no thought for the on-going maintenance of the façades of today's commercial buildings, clad in glass curtain-walling; maintenance which often entails work at height.
Recent legislation has imposed more stringent safety requirements on the people who plan and carry out work at height. Introduced last year, the Work at height regulations impose a duty of care to ensure the safety of those working above ground level. It is now a legal requirement to consider a safe means of access before any work is carried out at any height where there is a risk of falling - and not just for work being undertaken above 2m high as was the case previously. A clear obligation upon architects to consider the work at height implications the buildings they design.
Specific legal obligations for designers are contained the Construction (design and management) regulations - CDM. These regulations are currently being revised to take into account the findings of a 2002 government discussion document entitled Revitalising health and safety in construction.
This recognised that all was not well with the industry's health and safety performance overall and, among many other issues, asked for views on the role of designers. The responses included many suggestions about how designers could make more of an impact on health and safety.
These and other comments encouraged revision of the CDM regulations. One of the key objectives for the review was to simplify and clarify the regulations and to address designers' relationships with other key players, including clients and contractors.
A consultation document on the proposed CDM revision was produced two years ago, but publication of the revised regulations has been delayed and is not expected before the end of 2006. In the meantime, specific guidance on the correct design of building façades with regard to post-completion maintenance and repair has been produced by the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology (CWCT) at the University of Bath. The CWCT's recently published Standard for systemised building envelopes includes specific access and maintenance requirements and incorporates the requirements contained in another CWCT standard: Design of façades for safety - access for construction, maintenance and repair.
The Standard for systemised building envelopes is not legally binding on designers or clients, making only recommendations. However, the CWCT is a highly respected organisation whose standards carry considerable weight. If an accident occurs that could have been avoided by adhering to the standard's recommendations, the courts may take a dim view of decisions to ignore the standard.
Maintenance issues that have not previously concerned designers are now covered in the standard - such as the need to consider how to repair and maintain illuminated signs, CCTV cameras and other ancillary equipment.
Published on 1 March 2006, the new Standard for systemised building envelopes covers all forms of systemised envelope construction and their integration into a complex envelope. It replaces the existing standards for curtain walling, ventilated rainscreens and slope glazing. It now includes better specification of thermal and acoustic performance, interfaces, brise-soleil as well as access and maintenance requirements. There are also many changes from the old standards to incorporate amendments to the Building Regulations, the introduction of British European standards and changes to British standards.
The requirements of this standard are included in the National Building Specification (NBS) and are the basis for the envelope standards of the National House Building Council (NHBC).
Publication of this new standard will work to the advantage of facilities managers because designers will be obliged to consider the role of the FM specialist at the earliest design stages.
Of course, maintenance methods and equipment have been included in building designs for many years - for example, permanent rope-suspended access cradles are a common sight on many high-rise glass-clad buildings. Yet the new CWCT standard, by incorporating ancillary equipment, recognises that not all maintenance can be carried out in this way. Many modern buildings, being angular or curvaceous in form, cannot be accessed easily without specialist equipment.
High reach self-propelled or truck-mounted powered access platforms today play a role in helping facilities managers carry out maintenance work on multi-storey buildings. Routine cleaning cannot be carried out economically from using scaffolding for the purpose - it would take longer to erect and dismantle the scaffold than it would to clean the façade.
At the same time, other access methods - which for buildings up to three storeys usually means a simple leaning ladder - may now sometimes be considered too hazardous to comply with the newWork at height regulations.
Many architects are now alert to the needs of the FM specialist, but it is important that professionals in the facilities management sector make the effort to interact with designers at an early stage in the design of the building so that safety and efficiency can be built into the maintenance regime of the finished structure.
David Roebuck is business director at Nationwide Access. Michelle Barkley is technical director of Chapman Taylor and a member of the steering group on the standard Design of façades for safety