Building maintenance: putting people first

Safety is at the top of the list for public sector building managers, followed closely by carbon emissions and energy costs. It is also important to emphasise the role that building plays in health and well-being.

The Building Safety Act 2022 is the most powerful reminder for owners and managers of the obligation they have for the physical safety of the people who occupy and visit their buildings. However, the fact that most people spend at least 90 per cent of their time indoors means the control of temperature, relative humidity, air quality, ambient noise, lighting levels and general comfort factors are particularly critical for their health and quality of life.

Growing problems with damp and mould across the UK built environment have highlighted the importance of maintaining buildings to a high standard including ensuring effective heating and ventilation to safeguard against rising respiratory conditions. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that exposure to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is directly linked to 3.8 million premature deaths worldwide every year.

At SFG20, the industry standard for planned and preventative building maintenance, we have been closely monitoring new secondary legislation introduced under the Act to help public sector maintainers achieve compliance, but we are always mindful of the wider implications for health and wellbeing.


Strict new rules came into effect in October 2023 including revisions of the Building Regulations that introduced new roles and responsibilities at design and construction, but also during the operation of buildings. As well as facing closer scrutiny of the measures in place to ensure structural safety, building operators are now obliged to improve communications with occupants about fire safety, in particular.

The initial focus is on higher-risk buildings (defined by the government as buildings taller than 18 metres or consisting of seven storeys and containing at least ‘two residential units’ and/or a care home or hospital). 14,000 existing HRBs were registered with the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) in time for the 1 October deadline when owners were obliged to notify which person or organisation was responsible for their ongoing safety operation.

However, the BSR continues to remind everyone that the new safety regime will eventually apply to all buildings “from shed to Shard."

The new duty holder regime introduced in October covers both new build and refurbishment projects and allocates clear duties to clients, developers and main contractors who have responsibility to ensure anyone working at design, construction, commissioning, and handover.

The regulations state that all individuals must be able to provide evidence of their competence and organisations must also be able to demonstrate their corporate competence and capabilities to fulfil their roles including management processes, systems, and resources throughout the operational life of the building.

However, keeping people safe and productive should not just be a regulatory issue. It is also the right thing to do if you recognise that you manage a building on behalf of people who rely on you to provide a healthy, productive environment.

Our built environment should be maintained to a level that supports people’s social aspirations, keeps them safe and reduces their risk of being exposed to harmful pollutants and viruses. This can often be overlooked when maintenance budgets are being challenged in the face of rising labour and material costs.

Many facilities managers are turning to SFG20 to help them create the right indoor environment for occupants to meet their regulatory obligations but also to support day-to-day living, work and leisure activities. The standard gives them access to best practice and benchmarks so they can compare their own facilities with comparable buildings and national standards.

SFG20 was developed by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and is now more than 30 years old. It has evolved from a series of printed maintenance schedules into a highly sophisticated software solution that is constantly updated to ensure users are able to maintain their buildings in line with the latest technical standards and best practices as well as national legislation.


Complying with SFG20 allows a building manager to remain on the right side of the law while ensuring the occupants have the best possible environment. However, more than that, it makes all this possible at the lowest cost because it ensures precious resources and effort are targeted where they can make the most difference.

Its comprehensive guidelines ensure that buildings don’t just meet the bare minimum, but are also robust in terms of safety, longevity, and efficiency – and it demonstrates how and why maintenance is more cost-effective than repair or replacement. Preventative measures, as outlined in SFG20, are designed to identify and tackle electrical, structural, and fire safety issues before they become serious problems that could lead to disruptive downtime and potentially expensive replacement.

Part of ensuring value for money involves keeping equipment and systems working at their best and most energy efficient, which can also extend operating life. A well-maintained building uses resources more efficiently, leading to cost savings as well as ensuring a better ‘user experience’ for the occupants.

Many public sector building operators are also increasingly mindful of their environmental responsibilities and the fact that net zero targets are legally binding. While the government recently relaxed some of the timetables involved, organisations are still obliged to work towards these goals and recognise their impact on corporate reputation.

Maintaining a building’s resilience in the face of rising global temperatures and more volatile weather conditions is increasingly challenging, but SFG20 can help FMs adapt built assets to make them more resilient to the various impacts of climate change by ensuring their critical systems are properly maintained and controlled. The increased use of ‘smart’ technologies helps to future-proof systems so they can adapt to changing conditions, but these need to be monitored and adjusted regularly.

Buildings are complex assets, and they are all different – so the team behind SFG20 produces targeted guidance, webinars, and whitepapers to help building managers carry out specific tasks. For example, it recently published a ‘handover’ guide that explains how to create an up-to-date register of components including vital information such as age, current condition, maintenance history and any other useful information like warranties or service agreements.

This information can help to smooth the transition from one building operator to another. The asset register is also at the heart of any maintenance strategy because it allows the facilities manager to establish a set of priorities and work out the best approach for each element to avoid over or under-maintaining anything. This can involve separating assets into those that need regular inspections, those that require preventative maintenance, and others that are on a path towards replacement.

SFG20’s maintenance schedules are regularly updated so they remain in line with changing legislation and best practice and its software solutions help users achieve compliance in the most cost-effective way by targeting unnecessary costs and focusing resources where they are most needed. It also supports the accepted best practice of splitting planned preventative maintenance and reactive maintenance budgets on an approximately 70:30 basis.


The complexity of buildings means there is always going to be a need to react to circumstances beyond your control, but preventive maintenance reduces these risks. It involves regularly checking vital components and replacing parts when necessary as well as cleaning and lubricating components, inspecting safety devices, calibrating instruments, and generally testing how well equipment is working in line with its target operating parameters.

It reduces the risk of unplanned and potentially expensive downtime by catching any potential issues before they become serious. However, to be successful employees need to be properly trained so they know what they are looking for and can implement the necessary improvements.

Training in-house staff to perform certain maintenance tasks can prove to be a sound investment as it reduces sole reliance on external contractors and often improves employee engagement and job satisfaction, which can result in higher retention levels.

Of course, there are always cost implications and managers must constantly weigh up budgetary priorities, but regular reviews help to identify spending patterns that could flag up over or under-maintenance. So, this is not just about looking for savings but also shows how the same money can be spent more wisely by targeting tasks more strategically.

Complying with the SFG20 standard is not just another ‘tick box’ exercise or a shortcut to remaining legally compliant. It is also a pathway to safer, healthier, more efficient, and cost-effective buildings – for the benefit of all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Bullard is a building maintenance specialist and SFG20's product director.

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