29 April 2020
Further major changes to fire regulations in buildings on their way
Earlier this month the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced their updates on building safety reforms in correspondence from MP Robert Jenrick. The letter, which – as expected – highlights the many imminent actions the Government plans to take following the Hackitt review’s conclusion, is a succinct summary of the various changes coming our way.
Below we have extracted what we consider to be the main points from the letter and elaborated on what these reforms mean for timber and the larger construction industry.
A new, national Building Safety Regulator
TRADA believes this to be the most significant of all the announcements being made. The new regulator will be responsible for:
- implementing and enforcing a more stringent regulatory regime for higher risk buildings, which will apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height, or more than six storeys;
- providing wider and stronger oversight of safety and performance across all buildings;
- increasing the competence of those working on building safety; and
- all major regulatory decisions made at key points during the design, construction, occupation and refurbishment stages of buildings, including whether a building may be constructed, and whether appropriate actions to mitigate and manage fire and structural risks are being taken on an ongoing basis so that the building can be safely occupied.
The Health and Safety Executive has considerable authority and has, since its formation, made enormous strides in improving safety in the workplace, particularly within the construction industry. The setting up of a Building Safety Regulator is in itself a substantial feat – but were it set up with the same powers and oversight as the Health and Safety Executive, we would expect to see great improvements made across the industry.
The introduction of a comprehensive duty holder regime will also ensure that clearly identified people are directly accountable for the safety of residents at each stage in the life cycle of a building, through design, construction and occupation, including those buildings already occupied.
Residents will have new rights
Residents will have new rights to receive information about the safety of their building and be able to request access to appropriate detailed safety information. They will be involved in decisions about the safety of their building and will have their complaints about safety dealt with quickly and effectively, with an escalation route to the Building Safety Regulator if this does not happen. They will also have clearer responsibilities in relation to mitigating risks to their homes, their neighbours’ homes and their building.
Consequently, it is important that residents have access to high quality factual information about key construction materials and how they perform in fires.
Aluminium composite material cladding established as an unparalleled risk
While the research into fire performance of cladding materials including timber has concluded that more research is necessary, and that other cladding materials should also be assessed further for safety and remediated where found to be unsafe, TRADA is pleased to see it confirmed through this initial set of Government-funded tests that timber cladding does not present the unparalleled risk that aluminium composite material cladding using polyethylene presents.
Fire Safety Bill places beyond doubt that external wall systems, including cladding, and the fire doors to individual flats in multi-occupied residential blocks, fall within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
The recently introduced Fire Safety Bill and associated regulatory changes together enable delivery of the recommendations of the Grenfell Public Inquiry phase 1 report that require changes to the law. By definitively placing these elements within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, fire and rescue services are empowered to enforce locally against building owners or managers who have not remediated unsafe aluminium composite material cladding from multi-occupied residential buildings.
Updates to Approved Document B to include mandatory provision of sprinklers in high-risk blocks
A revised Approved Document B is being published in May 2020. New mandatory measures will include sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage in all new high-rise blocks of flats over 11 metres tall.
This will clearly impact fire safety strategy on all blocks over this height and see a move from relying mainly on passive measures towards a greater reliance on active measures. However, there will be significant practical implications in terms of where to site the water storage and pumps in tight locations in addition to the cost.
Action on mortgages and indemnity insurance relating to properties in high-rise residential buildings
TRADA is pleased to see that the Government has recognised the impacts of action taken by mortgage lenders in becoming much more risk averse to various forms of cladding materials, not just aluminium composite material cladding using polyethylene, and are keen to bring some stability to this situation.
In the same vein, the Government also recognises the difficulties many construction professionals have faced in accessing adequate Professional Indemnity Insurance and are currently considering solutions, including the commissioning of a review to look athow Professional Indemnity Insurance can be provided in ways that give fire engineers and other construction professionals the confidence to continue providing professional advice on fire risks associated with cladding on high rise buildings.
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