Opinion

It’s time to review fire-related Building Regs

3 July 2017 | By Iain Cox

Iain Cox, chairman of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, says it’s clear our Building Regulations need updating to prevent future disasters on the scale of Grenfell Tower.

Iain Cox

The tragic events of the Grenfell Tower fire have led to a nationwide debate around fire safety, especially concerning building materials, sprinklers and regulatory reform.

One of the key questions which has emerged is why, after the Lakanal House fire in 2009, the government has not prioritised an update to the Building Regulations.

At last week’s FIREX International event, held at London’s ExCel Centre, the Fire Sector Federation (FSF) hosted a panel to discuss the lessons learned and to debate why Building Regulations need to reviewed.  

The panel expressed concerns about the apparent disconnect in the processes which aim to ensure fire safety within the built environment, as well as concerns about the combustibility of certain modern building materials and techniques.

Speaking at the event, Dennis Davis, FSF vice chair, summed up the feelings of many in the panel of UK fire safety experts: “We are on record as saying time and time again that we are desperately worried that our Building Regulations have been falling behind the scale and scope of what has been going on in the built environment.”

The construction environment has changed dramatically in the past 10 years and will continue to change. It is imperative that regulations are aligned with new developments, a thought echoed by Jim Glockling, technical director at the Fire Protection Association: “There is a failure of the regulations to respond to the changes in the built environment. The way we are constructing buildings, the methods, the materials deployed to pursue the sustainability of the type we are seeing – these are completely unrecognisable compared to when the regulations were last approved.”

The panel also raised concerns around fragmentation within the construction industry, as panellist Niall Rowan, chief operations officer at the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP), explained: “We are working with architects to get fire protection into the RIBA Plan of Works. Part of this would include sign off by the responsible third party at each stage.”

This move from the ASFP is a response to the weaknesses in a building’s “chain of custody” when it comes to fire protection.

What was clear from the panel is that there has been a worrying complacency on the issue of fire protection, highlighted by the government’s inaction towards updating guidance. The stable door legislative process which has relied on the influence of fatal fires, such as the one we have seen at Grenfell, needs to be reviewed.

We believe a wide-ranging review of the building regulations relating to fire, particularly the guidance contained in Approved Document B (ADB) is overdue. It is needed to protect people and property from fire and to help business and building owners better understand the threat that fire poses to their infrastructure and future.

This information is sorely needed as we now know from a recent YouGov survey that 69% of the businesses polled thought that following ADB guidance meant that their business premises would be adequately protected from fire events. It doesn’t, but it should.

The fire sector is calling for the government and the construction industry to work together in supporting a review of the current fire safety regulations, to include consideration of existing buildings.

We are also appealing to both parties to take greater responsibility for the design and correct installation of fire protection systems across the built environment.

We have long campaigned for more robust solutions to be explored within the regulations which should protect life and property and we strongly believe that systems such as automatic sprinklers should be considered more readily as a viable option across the built environment, whether that is existing high-rise residential blocks, care homes, or commercial and industrial buildings.

Now is the time for our government to look at current regulations and recommendations with fresh eyes and provide a clear answer for tragedies such as Grenfell Tower, ensuring that we can prevent them in the future.

For more information about the Business Sprinkler Alliance visit www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org

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