On 19 December, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) issued a response to the Hackitt review and a 64-page implementation plan. This states that the Ministry intends to implement all the recommendations but with subtle changes of detail. It also launched a review of Approved Document B and new guidance on assessments in lieu of tests.
While the Government has welcomed the review, there remains some uncertainty about how and when the recommendations will be implemented. The implementation plan states that the MHCLG intends to implement all the recommendations but only notes that it will consult in the Spring on how.
The Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) welcomes the Hackitt Review’s focus on ensuring fire safety is considered early in the design process and the introduction of mandatory sign off procedures at the crucial Gateway Points of: Planning Permission, Permission to Build and Permission to Occupy.
The Association also welcomes the focus on improving levels of competency throughout the construction process and is actively working with the Competency Working Groups established by the construction industry’s Competency Steering Group to deliver proposals for an overarching competency framework. The Steering Group aims to report in May 2019.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in collaboration with the ASFP has developed a Fire Safety Overlay for the RIBA Plan of Works. This aims to ensure there is a detailed specification for fire protection at the design stage and a schedule for fire throughout the construction process. It includes sign offs as construction progresses, with all information reaching the end-user to support adequate fire risk management. Sources indicate that this model, or a variation of it, will be used for new build, but there are still many outstanding comments to consider and it will need some adaptation for refurbishment.
The ASFP also supports MHCLG’s aim to improve product test standards and ensure clarity in marketing. The Association is pleased to see Government support for third party certification schemes for products, which it believes are key to improving the quality of fire protection products, but notes that this should extend to installers as well since this is where many of the current problems lie.
Although the Hackitt report did not ban the use of combustible materials, the Government has since introduced a ban on the external walls of new buildings over 18 metres containing flats, as well as new hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools and student accommodation over 18 metres. Schools over 18 metres are also included in this ban.
The new Government guidance for assessments in lieu of tests (also known as desktop studies) prohibits the use of such assessments for external wall systems for all buildings in scope of the combustible materials.
The guidance further restricts the use of assessments in lieu of tests in other areas, including how they are undertaken and by whom, ensuring transparency and requiring companies that undertake these tests to do so to high standards. It is quite restrictive, more so than the amendments to Approved Document B and ASFP will be seeking clarification on this.
ASFP is working within the Passive Fire Protection Forum on a revised Guide to Undertaking Assessments in Lieu of Fire Tests, which aims to provide guidance on who is permitted to undertake such assessments, with qualifications, experience and training required being clearly defined.
Implications for specification
The Government has clearly stated that its intention is to implement the recommendations of the Hackitt Review. While the changes we have seen to date have been limited, the implications for the specification of fire protection products in the future are many and varied:
- Those who design buildings are expected to become far more familiar with fire protection and so design structures which can be successfully fire protected. For example, the need to ensure adequate spacing and size for openings in compartment walls and floors for penetrating services
- Those who specify fire protection products are expected to become more knowledgeable on the abilities and limitations on passive fire protection products and so specify solutions that can work and be installed successfully on site.
- Tier 1 contractors and fire engineers are not expected to value engineer and/or break specifications with a deleterious effect on fire protection
- It is expected that there will be increased specification of third party certificated products installed by third party certificated contractors.
The recommendations from the Hackitt Review were detailed and wide-ranging since they called for a complete overhaul of the building regulatory system. However, its final impact is yet to be determined as the industry continues to come to terms with the extensive and lasting culture change necessary to ensure the safety of our existing and future built environment.