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Concrete scandal exposes true value of building maintenance

At a time when building maintenance budgets are under intense pressure, facilities managers could do worse than refer clients to the ongoing scandal over reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

Hundreds of schools have had to close buildings and thousands of children have had their education disrupted. The crisis has spread to hospitals, prisons, and social housing with many facing expensive rebuilding programmes.

However, when the National Audit Office (NAO) warned some months ago that 700,000 pupils were at schools needing major rebuilding or refurbishment, it wasn’t RAAC that was seen as the issue. It listed asbestos, wiring, and HVAC systems as the main source of the problems. RAAC is, therefore, just the latest symptom of a deeper rooted problem with the way we maintain buildings – or don’t.

The NAO had already estimated the cost of fixing the school estate at £11.4bn before the RAAC was revealed and the NHS hospital maintenance backlog is already £10.2bn. This has enormous implications for NHS waiting lists, for the long-term mental health and achievement levels of our children, and the ability to provide vital social services to those most in need.

When it was introduced to help deliver the post-war building boom, RAAC was seen as a useful material for many governments, but it was always made clear that it only had a limited life – not much more than 30 years. A lot of public buildings were thrown up on the understanding that they would have to be properly maintained and renewed when required so they either remained fit for purpose or were replaced over time.

Lack of investment meant this simply did not happen in thousands of buildings up and down the UK leading to the current expensive and worrying situation. Yet, the sad irony is that if building managers had been able to stick to a planned maintenance strategy that focused on keeping these expensive assets operating efficiently and safely, they would have spent a great deal less money over those years – and would not be facing such a massive rectification bill now.

SFG20 – the standard for building maintenance developed by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and introduced in 1990 – provides the methodology for keeping buildings on track and flagging up any potential problems before they became serious. Complying with the standard is, therefore, the best way for FMs to ensure they have all the legal and technical bases covered.

For example, the regular inspections and maintenance schedules outlined in SFG20 identify and address potential hazards, such as faulty electrical systems, fire safety equipment, or structural issues, before they pose a real risk. They protect assets and keep them in good repair, meaning assets are more likely to last their intended operating life and prevent premature wear and tear that leads to expensive downtime and replacement work.

Complying with SFG20 guidance also reduces energy costs by keeping equipment working efficiently, but above all it provides a strategy that avoids under and over-maintaining assets so that increasingly precious resource is focused and the building maintained in the most cost-effective way.

The problems created by failing buildings has also brought the legal compliance issue into focus and complying with SFG20 reduces the risk of falling foul of the law because it is regularly updated to reflect changes in legislation and building standards.

It also ensures a better ‘user experience’, reducing the likelihood of complaints from tenants while enhancing their comfort and well-being. This has a noticeable commercial impact by reducing tenant turnover and enhancing the reputation of the building owner or landlord.

Property firms must also meet their environmental, social and governance (ESG) obligations, and a well-run building is usually a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly one – another aspect that enhances reputation and image.

The need to make buildings more resilient to the effects of climate change is another motivation for making maintenance more rigorous and SFG20 can help users create the most appropriate regimes to meet these aims.

Insurers are also playing a more significant role in property management these days due to the increased focus on safety created by the Building Safety Act and tighter fire safety regulations.  If they have concerns, this can lead to insurance being refused or, at least, premiums being raised. Many now regard adherence to SFG20 as a requirement for minimising risk as it helps the FM produce an auditable trail of good practice.

So, complying with SFG20 supports safety, protects expensive assets, meets regulations, improves efficiency, and enhances the reputation of building owners and managers while also helping them reduce costs. It can also help the country avoid future building scandals.



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About Sarah OBeirne

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