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Safe Design, vs Safe Home

When you buy, or rent a product, it usually comes with a guide of how best to use it. To realise the benefits you require/expect, use the product safety, and as intended, (avoid any adverse effects) and to ensure it lasts as long as possible.

if it’s perceived as a technical, or complicated product most people actually read, and comply with these Operation and maintenance manuals.

When they’re not, they’re often ignored.

I wonder then how buildings are considered in all of this.

I think of buildings as products. A product constructed of a multitude of other products, manufactured and installed, by different people – and to work harmoniously together, as a living machine – as a shelter for its occupants.

That’s one purpose. If you’re an Investor or owner, that purpose also includes, ensuring the building is working harmoniously in operation, and in a cost effective manner. Thats considering energy, ensuring rental income remains worthwhile. For its entire life cycle.

For the suppliers the middle, and delivering these requirements – their aim is simple. Make money, and look good while doing so. Looking good, can mean compliance with regulations, maintaining a reputation of social value, it could be demonstrating expertise in specific areas. That’s the context. In order to make money, they’ll be asked by the client to deliver the Building to certain specifications. Then to hand over information to enable the owners to manage and maintain that building in the most safe, and efficient ways. If the client isn’t clear, or doesn’t know what that information should be or look like, or the format it should take. The contractors handover what they have with the best intentions, but what is handed over will not satisfy those end requirements. The client will be faced with work to translate and reproduce the relevant content for these purposes. At an additional cost, and time to them. Most likely they even buy new software to deploy it – but that’s a different topic!

This is where the Building manual comes in. For operators and owner’s, they get health and safety files, inclusive of Operation and maintenance manuals for equipment and building user handbooks for facilities management. Occupants usually are provided with home user guides, or home user manuals.

Have you ever read your home user guide?

Do you even have one, and if so, do you know where it is?

Is it something you refer to if or when something goes awry?

Is it helpful when you do?

How do you use your Home User Guide (or Handbook)?

I have a tenancy handbook, and home user manual. Neither of them have ever been of any use to me. I would sooner google the number I need to call, or what I need to do to fix something, than refer to my manual. For me, this is because the first time I saw it, I knew it was generic. That after about a month, it would become obsolete. It didn’t allow me to track or manage issues. No help on the actual equipment installed by my landlord, because many have been updated, and there’s nothing in the manual to even update. I could go on.

I have in my profession produced manual printed, and digital home user guides, of a variety of digital – Ness. Some were websites, with a basic user interface, and generic home information accessed via a database. This at least meant that the manual could be updated. It didn’t allow for residents to update anything though.

After practical completion, and some months after owners and tenants moved in. I used to check in with the residents directly, and through the residential management company. I’d ask residents where their handover packs were, and how helpful they had found them. Unless they had cause to regularly refer to them, manual had lost them quite fast. Threw the printed ones out with packaging, or it was already tucked under a washing machine or something. There were the few paperwork keepers, who had them handy in drawers, or cupboards. These were pretty thick documents though, as soon as they took up space for more useful things – they’d be out. A slightly different story with the ‘online pdf’s’, and website versions. The biggest issues I found, were people didn’t easily think of it. So forgot it after a short while. The information in it was generic, so if they were online, they were more likely to want to find information shared by another person. Either someone like them who had succeeded, or someone with authority on the topic.

Which brings me to my main point. Buildings are products, and they’re designed to be used in intended ways. As we know, people can also abuse and use products in many unintended ways. Some of these create health and safety risks, to them, and even worse to others too. With most products there is testing, and user feedback, trading standards, and all kinds of regulations that enable every day users to influence the safety of products on the market. With buildings this is rarely so.

I think it’s because buildings despite how much they are used by every day residents, unless those residents are also the sole owners. They don’t have much of a say in what is built. Nor what they would need to be informed of to use it well. Nor are they included in lessons learnt to understand how buildings, or these handovers could be improved.

If building owners truly mean to keep their occupants safe and satisfied. They should include residents insights in the requirements of what is handed over to residents. It seems like a no brainer to me, but by no means easy. There are also professionals and owners who may feel residents will just complain, and not provide any productive input. What do they know, etc. We might also get residents who feel like it’s not their problem, or they get what they’re given.

Information saves lives. A statement I’m hearing more and more these days. I hope to see more of it in action. For residents, that may mean some of us stepping up and asking for what we’re due. The reality is, owners, operators, and even the supply chain are struggling with all the different compliance, and legislative laws coming to play. The enticing technologies, and offerings of experts. It’s hard. That shouldn’t be and isn’t enough to be an excuse though. It just means given these constraints, and time – can we resident afford to wait? Can we settle for an improvement, if that improvement still falls short of minimal rights or expectations? Are we, residents aware of our rights, and our responsibilities – so we can empower ourselves, where perhaps our landlords are unable?

Let me know what you think.

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