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DCLG consults on Part B update in delayed Lakanal response

5 February 2016

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has launched an online consultation on improving the usability of Approved Documents B and M – the industry's guidance for implementing Part B on fire safety and Part M on access to buildings.

NBS, part of RIBA Enterprises, is carrying out the research, which DCLG says will inform future improvements and updates to the Approved Documents.

The online consultation comes nearly three years after the inquest into the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, Southwark, in July 2009, in which six people lost their lives.

The inquest, held in early 2013, heard that even the experts disagreed on the interpretation of Approved Document B. One of the outcomes of the inquest was that the coroner sent a “Section 43” letter to then communities secretary Eric Pickles, recommending a review of Approved Document B to improve usability.

Lack of action on this recommendation led the Fire Sector Federation (FSF) – in conjunction with the Construction Industry Council – to conduct its own survey into the industry’s views on Part B, calling for an overhaul last year after gathering evidence the document was confusing and inconsistent.

Questions in the survey seek views on issues such as the use of tables and diagrams; the range of suggested design solutions; the consistency of terms used; whether it achieves the right balance between being prescriptive and non-prescriptive, and whether pdfs are still an appropriate format.

Geoff Wilkinson ICIOB, an approved inspector and managing director of Wilkinson Construction Consultants, welcomed the survey, and said he was glad that the new DCLG survey did not propose changing the substance of the regulations – just their presentation.

He told Construction Manager: “They are looking at exactly what they were told to look at [following the Lakanal inquest], which is how the docs are laid out.

“Focusing on the readability and usability of the documents makes total sense as they can be confusing even to regular practitioners. It is also good that they haven’t overstepped their brief and looked at the technical details of the regs as they are largely fit for task. If they do plan to look at anything else, then this survey doesn’t address that.”

Wilkinson also believes that the wording of the survey questions suggests that DCLG could be minded to make Part B more prescriptive and rule-based in the future. One question asks if respondents think that “in the future, guidance in the Approved Document will need to link to BIM models”. 

He noted: “It is really interesting that the survey asks what percentage of the regs people think should be guidance and what percentage is regulatory. This seemingly ties in with the question that asks if BIM should be used to check for compliance. The more regulated elements are fixed, the more realistic the option for digital checking would become.”

He predicted that “we could potentially see a future two stage system, whereby if the regs are confirmed by the BIM software a project could be fast tracked, and if not you would go through a building control officer”.

“Using BIM to carry out a digital check could be a really useful tool for ‘simple’ projects but only if an alternate option to go through a real-life building inspector continued for complex or non-standard systems, otherwise we would stifle innovation.”

Comments

It worries me that BIM is seen as some great saviour in construction and more especially - fire safety of buildings. Even if we are to get a new generation of better pre-design and snagging before going to Building Control, it is what happens on site that matters. Only more inspections by independent bodies during construction might help catch the many bad practices such as lack of cavity barriers and joke fire stopping. (A bag of KFC chicken was the latest shown to me!) Maybe someone could offer 3D scanning of a site at set intervals before all the bodges are hidden away! This could possibly be checked against the BIM file.

M Floyd, 5 February 2016

I agree with the preceeding comments, as BIM is like the "Emperor's Clothes" myth, everyone is trying to jump onto a band wagon of a model-based system. The real world is full of hazards and checks needed by competent people, mainly in construction phase, that you can not account for in a BIM 4D protocol perfect system! Await lawyers' frenzy when design change audits go through the BIM process, but will not effect the build quality/safety, needing human experience/competency and knowledge. People need to think "outside the BIM Box".

J Sandland MRICS MCABE, 5 February 2016

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