With industry commentators expecting new legislation to implement the outcomes of The Hackitt review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety to be published for consultation in late May, the construction and fire sectors as well as building occupiers are keen to know what might be included.
While the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) implementation plan stated that the Government intends to implement all the recommendations, there is some speculation about to what degree the changes will be introduced and the scope of buildings to which it will apply.
While Dame Judith recommended a new regulatory framework for Higher Risk Residential Buildings (HRRBs), there has been much debate about whether some requirements may be applied more widely than just to those buildings considered to be HRRBs (10 storeys plus). Speaking at the ASFP’s AGM on 9 April MHCLG Building Safety Policy Director Neil O’Connor stated that the Government had made it clear that there would be a stronger regulatory and accountability framework for HRRBs but asked whether the height of a building is the right or only threshold that should be considered? He highlighted the need to identify risk and to take into account vulnerable occupants. So it maybe that a risk based approach is used, for example, increased requirements for hospitals where instant evacuation is problematic, even though these may be well under the 10 storey limit.
When the Government introduced the combustibility ban on external walls, the ban was introduced for all new buildings over 18 metres containing flats, as well as new hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools and student accommodation and schools over 18 metres. We are not expecting any changes here other than clarification and expansion of the list of products to which the ban will not be applicable. The current legislation is causing problems in a number of projects and demonstrates why a blanket ban, however well intentioned, is often not the best course.
While there has been much debate about where any new regulatory framework should apply; it seems likely that legislation will, at least initially, only apply to buildings over 30m in height. However, there is clear support for best practice and new requirements to be rolled out to other types of building over time as this is seen as the only way to implement the change in culture necessary in the construction industry.
The Hackitt Review also recommended that fire safety is considered early in the design process and introduced the concept of mandatory sign off procedures at the crucial Gateway Points of: Planning Permission, Permission to Build and Permission to Occupy. It also recommended the introduction of a new Joint Competent Authority (JCA) to oversee the sign off procedures and the appointment of Dutyholders for each building to ensure accountabilities are clear throughout the life of a building.
Mr O’Connor suggested that MHCLG would expect Dutyholders to use a safety case approach which would highlight all the risks and mitigation features put in place. He explained that Dutyholders would be required to demonstrate the safety of the building to regulators through the production of a ‘Golden Thread’ of information about the building construction and safety systems installed, as well as proof of the competency of those engaged to carry out work. Legislation to enact this is expected in the consultation.
But it is here where there are many concerns. Dame Judith rightly recommended that an overarching framework be put in place to ensure competence for all involved in the construction industry and in the fire safety management of buildings. This is quite a tall order, bearing in mind the diversity of the construction sector; and the fragmented approach to training and competence to date. Across the sector there is very little (if any) regulation, benchmarked training or qualifications in place.
The Industry Response Group (made up of the Construction Industry Council, the Construction Products Association and Build UK) has been working to develop the industry’s recommendations. It established the Competency Steering Group, beneath which several Working Groups have been created covering the whole range of roles and responsibilities in the building lifecycle. These groups are also expected to report their findings and recommendations in late May. However, commentary suggests that further work will be required to develop the competency framework for many of the sector roles, including building safety managers.
In its Implementation plan in response to Hackitt, the Government stated it “accepts the need to create, in law, a tougher regulatory framework, under which regulators will have greater powers and more opportunities to intervene throughout the lifecycle of a building”. It also noted that by implementing a safety case approach it intended to “ensure that those responsible for risks fully understand them, own them and take measures to manage and mitigate them.”
There is recognition that the current approach to procurement has led to a ‘race to the bottom’, with projects awarded on the basis of cost alone and little emphasis put on product specification; with endless examples of cases where appropriate products are replaced with inferior options as construction progresses. There have been calls for improved independent supervision on site and for architects to have greater control throughout the construction process; in addition to the proposals for greater powers for the enforcement agencies.
While ASFP fully supports these proposals, it is concerned that there is a lack of understanding and knowledge by designers, specifiers and enforcers when it comes to fire precautions and system installation. ASFP was invited to a workshop on testing and certification, hosted by MHCLG at the National Physical Laboratory. The recognition that designers and specifiers often do not understand test data and reports was a common theme. There was also significant support for third party certification of products as providing an accessible document to support products in the market.
Government has made it clear that it expects industry to develop a solution but that it will legislate if it feels that the industry has not done enough. As we await the draft legislation, the question will remain whether Government believes the industry is capable of developing an adequate solution which will improve levels of competency and understanding throughout the building lifecycle and deliver the culture change required. If not, then rest assured the Government will impose an approach of its own.