What issues face the Building Safety Fund (BSF) and its recipients?

The Building Safety Fund is set up to support the replacement of unsafe cladding

The government has announced an additional £3.5 billion extension to its Building Safety Fund. This provides additional support to rectify cladding on at-risk buildings over 18m tall. Many have pointed out that a key issue with the fund is that it won’t address the full range of fire safety issues in buildings. But is the funding enough to address unsafe cladding?

Based on TFT’s ongoing work supporting applications for these funds for building owners and developers, market forces pose a risk to an overall programme of re-cladding. Achieving swift and effective improvements to at-risk buildings may require additional funding and extended deadlines.

The Building Safety Fund is set up to support the replacement of unsafe cladding

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TFT’s project management specialists help mitigate our clients’ exposure to supply chain risks. However, fundamental supply issues will nonetheless lead to increased costs and timings for all involved with re-cladding buildings. In a worst case scenario this could lead some to compromise on the quality of the remedial work.

TFT currently provides project management and quantity surveying services covering 35 high rise buildings across the UK, supporting applications for the BSF grant fund. Our role is to manage a programme that fulfils the safety needs of each building, while also managing costs and timelines. The capital expenditure for TFT’s programme portfolio is over £100m.

Whilst the additional funding is welcome for the extensive scope of works required to make these buildings safe, the below issues give cause for concern:

Supply chain capacity: fire engineering services and cladding material

These works require specialist services, engineering advice and construction works. We have found increasing demand for key services over the last six months, including specialist fire engineering advice, façade engineering advice as well as construction services. This creates a bottle-neck in the market.

The result is that suppliers are challenged to deliver fully and to preferred deadlines. Pricing for these services is rising as one would expect in a market-place where demand outpaces supply, well beyond those which have been benchmarked over a year ago.

Material suppliers are also squeezed. There is limited stock of suitable insulation materials which have similar thermal properties, at the same physical thickness and which have a suitable fire rating. The limited availability of these materials is limited and there may be a lag while the market adjusts and increases the supply of these specialist materials. Otherwise, there are further issues around how buildings may be re-designed and detailed with thicker external walls.

The scale of the problem is becoming more fully understood as leaseholders and freeholders undertake investigations of their high risk buildings and understand the remediation solutions. There is a real risk of these costs spinning out of control and this additional funding again being insufficient.

How TFT manages demand

Our teams work together to manage market demand and avoid creating bottle-necks in resource or specialist service supply chains.

A collaborative online programme management approach allows us to share data between projects and balance the supply chain and demand, ensuring that no contractor or supplier is overburdened. We do this using online project management tools and data collection to ensure our analysis can be undertaken in real time and provide clients and the project teams access to all this information, as required.

While these measures help to manage TFT’s impact on suppliers, the wider market effects are still significant and will put pressure on all parties in the future.

Costs and priorities of fund allocation

As well as managing these escalating costs, building owners must be able to support a full and proper application for grant funding or risk rejection. Thousands of applications have already been turned down.

Whilst pre-tender support is available, there may be delays in commencing projects whilst this support is applied for and received. If building owners and leaseholders have forward funded these initial design and investigation costs, it’s not clear that they would get this money back in the event of a rejected application. There are significant costs just to gather the information to secure funding and meet the funding deadlines. This will challenge all but very large developers or funds to support the works.

In addition, it’s not clear how the fund prioritises funding and how the highest risk buildings are categorised. The current terms suggest a first-come-first-served system. More clarity on the priorities assigned to tall blocks, or those with limited fire protections, would be useful for applicants and for wider public information.

Using data and building records to avoid a repeat scenario

Once the funds are secured and supply chain issues navigated, the last thing building owners and residents will want is to repeat the process years down the line. Quality control on how the works will be monitored and certified as complete will be of the utmost importance.

In addition, we must ensure accurate record-keeping on the building and the works undertaken. This includes updating existing building operations and maintenance manuals. It may sound obvious, but in our investigations data on wall composition was inconsistent and leads to complications identifying risks and taking the right steps to fix these issues.

What should be done?

The process of removing and replacing cladding on at-risk buildings across the UK is a huge exercise for procurement and project management.

As project manager, TFT can mitigate clients’ exposure to market risks and the demands on specific supply chains. However, the government will need to consider additional costs and lengthened deadlines for all parties involved with re-cladding buildings, if there’s a risk that not doing so will lead to sub-standard work done this time, requiring additional improvements in the near future.

The WELL Health-Safety Rating: what do you need to know?

The new WELL Health-Safety Rating helps create healthier and safer buildings for all users. In this post, we explain how owners and occupiers of all building types can use it today.

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The International Well Building Institute (IWBI) has published its new WELL Health-Safety Rating. This certification is recommended by TFT as a tool to prepare workplaces and other facilities for use in a post-COVID-19 environment thanks to its specific and practical guidance, which can help build trust among building users and visitors as we transition to increased building usage and seek to mitigate future risks.

TFT is embedding these principals, published by the IWBI, for our offices and in best practice guides for our clients. Our teams are here to help occupier organisations and building owners understand the certification and provide a higher standard of well-being by applying it.

What is the WELL Health-Safety Rating?

The WELL Health Safety Rating

The WELL Health-Safety Rating is an evidence based and third-party verified rating for all new and existing building and facility types. The rating focuses on operational policies, maintenance protocols, occupant engagement and emergency plans across six themes, including:

  • Cleaning and Sanitization Procedures
  • Emergency Preparedness Programs
  • Health Service Resources
  • Air and Water Quality Management
  • Stakeholder Engagement and Communication
  • Innovation

The full set of requirements are now available on wellcertified.com.

Get in touch with our team to find out how those apply to your organisation or building.

Does the WELL Health-Safety Rating deal with COVID-19 risks?

The IWBI is clear that the latest certification doesn’t make an organisation or building COVID-proof. However, it was developed in response to the pandemic and details interventions at a building and organisation scale which help reduce the risk of infectious diseases transmission. Furthermore, the strategies it contains apply to numerous health and safety issues relevant today and in the future.

What types of building can attain the WELL Health-Safety Rating?

The rating applies to any type of building, as well as any type of single-use or single-owner space within a building. Multi-use spaces such as stadiums, airports and shopping malls can also be certified by the same themes, but the application would take a different form due to differing requirements for the various uses of the space.

WELL Health-Safety rating applies to all building types, including office, restaurant, hospitality, education, retail and industrial sectors

Will it help me achieve a full WELL certification for my building?

Yes! While the Health-Safety Rating is a certification in its own right, and achieving it is a significant step for an organisation’s well-being journey, it will also support an application to become fully WELL-certified.

Given that it deals with a very immediate concern for employees and other building users, embarking on this process is timely and a good future-proofing step for your building or organisation.

Do you have other questions about the latest rating from WELL? Get in touch to learn how it could help you progress your organisation’s well-being journey.

Back to the workplace: The first step to safe building use

While every business disrupted by Covid-19 will be making plans to return to full operation, a return to workplaces will be tricky for SMEs or large businesses without dedicated health and safety risk management support.

Analysing a building’s layout, physical contact points, HVAC systems and more besides for potential hazards in-use can be a complex process. Government guidance states that all employers must have a full risk assessment for their business which addresses the risks of Covid-19.

This requirement is not just for offices and includes construction sites, shops or retail branches, warehouses, leisure and hospitality settings too.

Following recent risk assessments of our clients’ workplaces and of course all TFT offices, we have developed a comprehensive process for measuring and responding to risk.

Our goal is to help employees, clients and visitors feel at ease when returning to these buildings.

Photo by TASK

The process takes one to two days.

In that time, our assessments begin by discussing how the client has used the space in the past and wants to use the space in the future – to determine norms and expectations for the workforce. Then, after a physical site inspection, we will produce a full report identifying hazards, establishes who might be harmed, evaluates the risks, records the findings and provides an action plan.

It is also possible to prepare a Covid-19 risk assessment in-house.

If you are planning to take this approach, have a look at the re-opening guidelines produced by RICS, which includes steps and a helpful building checklist to follow.

The Health and Safety Executive also has detailed advice, in plain English, which explains what you need to be thinking about. Read it here.

If you have any questions while you are going through this process, or would like formal advice from one of our Chartered Health and Safety practitioners, please get in touch with Shoaib Shaikh.

How can WELL v2 inform your wellbeing strategy?

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) the body responsible for the WELL™ Building Standard (WELL™), has released interim guidance to prepare buildings, communities and organisations to support health and wellbeing in the workplace, in the midst of COVID-19. The advice is useful for organisations and building owners preparing to receive greater numbers back to workplaces following the latest official advice.

Though it draws on the existing WELL™ version 2, this guidance does not provide a new badge or certification. It is still very useful for understanding the most relevant WELL™ version 2 requirements in prevention and preparedness, resilience and recovery from the current pandemic. The guidelines touch on different aspects of the built environment including cleanliness, air and water quality, organisational resilience, mental health and comfort.

Following the interim guidance is the August launch of IWBI’s full Guidelines for Prevention and Preparedness, Resilience and Recovery and the graduated WELL™ v2 Standard.

In June IWBI will also launch the WELL™ Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management, which applies to a range of other facility types and market sectors including: offices, hotels, retail, grocery stores, warehouses, manufacturing, theatres, recreation, restaurants and schools.

Our team at TFT include WELL™ Accredited Professional and we are part of the recently instituted IWBI Task Force on COVID-19 and Other Respiratory Infections. We draw upon our wellbeing expertise to help organisations occupying buildings, and building owners themselves, to understand which WELL™ strategies are most appropriate for their buildings and users to maximise opportunities to enhance wellbeing.

Get in touch to find out how we can support you and your company on your workplace wellbeing journey, at: tftsustainability@tftconsultants.com and stay tuned for more news over the summer months.

You can read the interim guidance document here.

Back to the workplace: safer heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems

To support workers who must return to offices and other workplaces while also mitigating COVID-19 spread, building owners, managers and occupiers must assess their spaces and HVAC systems with new challenges in mind. How prepared are buildings to limit the transfer of the COVID-19 virus in working environments?

Building HVAC systems are a key part of the solution for both occupied and partially-occupied buildings.

Where buildings remain vacant, please take a look at our article on managing buildings with reduced usage.

REHVA (the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations) has released a guidance document on practical measures that can be applied to HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air-Conditioning systems). This is intended to work alongside and support the government’s social distancing requirements and advice from NHS England and the World Health Organisation. The recommendations are applicable to support those employees which must travel to work, to limit the risk of infection spread between building users.

First and foremost, despite usual instincts, managers must not simply switch off plant and equipment to save energy during times of reduced usage. Anything we can do to minimise the transfer of infections in the current outbreak is a higher priority than potential energy savings (which would be minimal during the current Spring season in any case).

Research from previous epidemics shows us how viruses similar to COVID-19 can be transferred in small droplets which can in turn be caught in the air movements of ventilation systems. So, supplying as much fresh air as possible and exhausting air to atmosphere can help to remove contaminated particulates from office spaces, before they are inhaled or land on and infect surfaces.

We have outlined 12 practical measures to help prepare building services, per REHVA guidance:

1. Secure ventilation of spaces with outdoor air

Supply air should be provided from outside air wherever possible. If this is not possible, it is recommended that you consider not using these areas.

2. Switch ventilation systems to nominal speed at least 2 hours before the building usage time and switch to lower speed 2 hours after the building usage time

It is not always possible to alter speed dependant on the age of the building. Where it is not possible to change the fan speed, we recommend running at nominal speed 24/7.

3. At nights and weekends, do not switch ventilation off

Keep systems running at lower speed – May not be able to reduce speed, recommend running at full speed where this is not possible.

4. Ensure regular airing with windows (even in mechanically ventilated buildings)

Where buildings have opening windows, it is recommended that these are opened as much as possible, even if this causes some discomfort. (Note: toilets and W/C’s should always have their windows shut).

5. Keep toilet ventilation in operation 24/7

This is to create negative pressure within the toilet areas, as these areas are considered to be of higher risk. (small areas, lots of contact areas, more likely to be sneezing, toilet flushes spread particles as well). COVID-19 has been sampled within stool samples in some studies.

In this higher risk area, avoid open windows to ensure the right direction of ventilation. Building occupants should flush toilets with closed lid to further limit the amount of droplets released into the air.

6. Switch air handling units with re-circulation to 100% outdoor air

Re-circulating air may allow airborne viruses to re-enter the building. The filter media within these systems are generally not able to capture airborne particles with sufficient efficiency.

7. Inspect heat recovery equipment for leakages

This is generally to do with thermal wheels and actuators, which may not “seal” as well as they should, due to wear and tear, or faults. Any leakage may recirculate airborne virus particles as above.

8. Switch fan coils off or operate so that fans are continuously on

This is to avoid spreading the virus around internally, or where necessary keep them running to avoid the virus contaminating the fan coil unit filters and chassis.

9. Do not change heating, cooling and possible humidification set points

There is no evidence that a change in temperature or humidity will impact the proliferation or destruction of the virus. It is noted that relative humidity of 30% or less can increase the likelihood of spreading viral infections.

10. Do not plan duct cleaning for this period

Ductwork cleaning has no theoretical or proven effect on reducing the spread of the virus and could expose the workers to potential infections.

11. Replace central outdoor air and extract air filters according to your maintenance schedule

Please note: the size of the droplets typically expected are unlikely to be caught in conventional filter media installed in an office environment. The types of filters required are generally specialist, for pharmaceutical/laboratory/operating theatres.

12. Regular filter replacement and maintenance works shall be performed with common protective measures including respiratory protection

There’s no evidence that the virus is likely to be completely removed from incoming air by filtration, but it may get caught within the filter media, creating a contamination risk. In addition, filters should be “double bagged” once removed.

Read full CIBSE and REHVA guidance on HVAC systems here: CIBSE guidance, REHVA guidance.

Our highly-experienced building services experts can provide commercial advice in relation to the requirements above to landlords, managing agents, end users and asset, property and facilities managers.

If you would like to discuss the above further, please contact: maintenance-management@tftconsultants.com

Mental health and workplace wellbeing

Mental health has become a key national concern over recent years, but was brought in to clear focus as a result of the pandemic and the lockdown restrictions which have challenged so many. As we look to the future and chart a route for returning to buildings and fully using towns and city centres, what role will mental health and workplace wellbeing play?

Government and businesses alike are trying to support the easing of lockdown restrictions with enhanced policies, products and services. On top of these initiatives, it’s important to consider how the built environment itself shapes our experience of the world, and what features we should focus on to improve workplace wellbeing and to re-open leisure and commerce venues in a better way.

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They are rarely the first things people pay attention to, but many elements of our workplace wellbeing are rooted in our working environment, adding up to our day-to-day satisfaction and performance at work. Increasingly, we at TFT are engaged to measure and improve workplaces with mental and physical health as a priority.

One of the key issues to consider in supporting mental health at work is to understand what ‘restorative spaces’ are within and around the workplace and how they affect us. Research shows that access to these places encourages us to take adequate breaks during the day, restoring energy and concentration levels, so we can go back to our work refreshed.

Restorative spaces are defined by the leading industry wellbeing certification – WELL Building Standard™ v.2 – in which TFT is an accredited partner and assessor. The WELL standard describes the role of restorative spaces in the following way:

M07 – “Restorative spaces […] can help alleviate the negative effects associated with workplace fatigue or mental depletion. Through incorporation of nature, among other restorative elements, these spaces can help relieve stress and mental fatigue, support focus and encourage overall mental well-being. Exposure to plants and other natural elements has been linked with decreased levels of diastolic blood pressure, depression and anxiety; increased attentional capacity; better recovery from job stress; increased psychological well-being”[1]

M01 – “Increasing nature contact at work may offer a simple, population-based approach to enhance workplace health promotion efforts.”[2]

Indoor breakout areas and outdoor terraces that feature natural elements such as plants, flowers and natural materials, can be considered as restorative spaces. Easy access to outdoor amenities such as a nearby park, a lake or river can motivate us to go for stroll during lunch time and have an even bigger impact on our tranquillity at work and on our general wellbeing.

This effect is due to a concept known as biophilia – the innate affinity we have with other forms of life and nature. Biophilia plays a significant role in defining places and spaces for mental health and wellbeing. The presence of natural or man-made biophilic spaces within a reasonable walking distance (≤1km) that are accessible via safe and secure routes is key in supporting mental health both inside and outside the workplace.

Beneficial outdoor spaces can also include public art, museums, food markets and festivals – all of which are highlighted by the International Living Future Institute’s ‘Living Building Challenge’, citing ‘design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit and place appropriate to its function and meaningfully integrate public art.’

Furthermore, the Urban Land Institute and the Centre for Active Design emphasise the importance of providing access to nature, both indoors and outdoors, which in turn facilitates social engagements and healthier lifestyles.

What are some real-life examples of these places? And do you have enough of them near you?

Our teams in Bristol and Birmingham pulled together a selection of the restorative spaces around their offices, recommended to provide the all-important outdoor and social break that we all need from time to time:

Bristol’s restorative spaces

Birmingham’s restorative spaces  

[1] Kant I, Beurskens a JHM, Amelsvoort LGPM Van, Swaen GMH. An epidemiological approach to study fatigue in the working population: the Maastricht Cohort Study. 2003:32-39.

[2] Largo-Wight E, Chen WW, Dodd V, Weiler R. Healthy Workplaces : The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health. Public Health Rep. 2011;126:124-131. doi:10.2307/41639273

Flexibility, wellbeing, and social value: three marks of the future office

TFT Partner Alistair Allison chaired the judging panel for the British Council of Offices’ recent South of England and Wales Awards. From a strong pool of entries, Ali and his fellow judges visited and reviewed a selection of the best offices from around the region, which stood out for their forward-thinking designs focused on the needs of occupiers. 

We asked Ali: what stood out from this year’s selection? And what can we expect from leading office designs in the future?

In my speech at the BCO Awards, I called out buzz-words like ‘sustainability’, ‘wellbeing’, ‘agile working’ and the like, which we’re all too familiar with but, thankfully, are becoming better understood as part of the client brief and design process, graduating from more superficial marketing claims.

Accordingly, I noticed that the best offices on the judges’ visits delivered tangible benefits through design, improving the experience of occupants and, therefore, the long-term prospects for owners.

While occupational density has remained consistent, design is making offices into places people want to be. Space is increasingly given over from the traditional office floor plate for specific activities, such as group working, hot-desking, concentration, relaxing or even yoga.

Perhaps it’s the rise of new developments, which dominated the entries this year, providing a ‘blank canvas’ for these design decisions. It’s an encouraging sign of a confident market; by comparison, the previous two years featured refurbished or recycled buildings in almost half of the entries. The fact that the ratio has changed this year is a result of where we are in the cycle, but nonetheless reassuring. If these new buildings are enabling the next generation of office development to flourish, I’m excited to see quality and occupant-centric design become more widespread across the sector.

We’re pleased to help our clients embrace these fundamentals too. 400 & 450 Longwater Avenue is a new office development in Green Park, Reading, targeting a WELL accreditation along with an ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating, assuring a high standard of wellbeing for its occupants alongside high sustainable credentials. When complete the scheme will offer a flexible, premium space which is set up for speculative occupiers with all kinds of requirements thanks to an easily-divisible floorplan, and these credentials provide further incentive for businesses which understand that wellbeing and sustainability in the workplace is becoming a minimum requirement for employees and customers alike.  

Longwater Avenue

But what sits beyond these badges or certifications?

One area which shows a great deal of potential for us is social value; the extent to which a place or space contributes positively to its neighbouring environment and community. It’s defined in different ways by different stakeholders, so risks becoming a nebulous and complex subject, but in terms of meeting the challenge of sustainable development it has huge potential. We foresee that as social value is more clearly defined, so occupiers and therefore owners will rank it more highly in their criteria for buildings – in much the same process as wellbeing is seen today, and that sustainability was once seen.

We are hugely excited by this opportunity, and worked with the UKGBC to produce a framework and guidance for the industry which formalises and clarifies the role of social value for a range of applications in the industry. 

In the coming years, I hope these steps will drive more interest in positive social impacts and that ‘the best of the best’ is seen increasingly in terms of what a building adds to the community within its walls and beyond – who knows, maybe we can skip the buzzword stage this time!