Howard Passey, Principal consultant at the Fire Protection Association October 2019
The fire and construction sectors are in the early stages of what is likely to be one of the most significant changes the industries have seen for many decades. The trigger has of course been the horrific Grenfell fire, which with some prompting has galvanised the sectors into action - well, action for some but maybe not for all just yet. It would probably be safe to assume that the wider implications of the Building a Safer Future report, competency workstreams outputs, legislative consultations and wider considerations of the guidance provided in Approved Document B have yet to be fully understood by those engaged in the fire and construction sectors but safe to say, they could be far wider than many currently may assume to be the case.
Of course, the focus has quite rightly been on high rise residential buildings, but the Government has made it clear through their ban on the use of combustible materials for cladding not just on blocks of flats, but also hospitals, residential care premises, boarding school dormitories and student accommodation and the inclusion also of such premises and prisons in their consultation covering the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order that the new landscape will bring far wider implications.
While recognising that early adopters and other forward thinking contractors have already started to implement change in the way they design, construct and manage properties - the same could probably not be said for the wider industry.
One of the fundamental changes in the way buildings are designed and managed will be the new requirements for ensuring competency and developing a ‘golden thread’ of information plus several gateways at which certain key deliverables will need to be assured before progressing with the work.
So, what we see forthcoming is widespread change for all working to ensure effective standards of fire safety implemented by competent people are carried from premises design through to eventual occupation. This also creates an opportunity for all to consider more carefully their choices in terms of not only life safety but the resilience of the premises to fire. We all recognise the devastating effects fire can have on communities and businesses and accept that decision making with regard to property protection are often overlooked until it is too late - however, we have the chance now to ensure that material selection, building design and the implementation of effective suppression facilities provide more resilient buildings.
The benefits of such an approach will also impact on ensuring better standards of safety during the construction phases of a project – and if we allow ourselves a moment to look beyond fire to other incidents which commonly render premises unoccupiable, such as escape of water, have the best chance to develop and implement revised practices which consider the premises ‘in the round’. This means not just focusing on ensuring life safety in new buildings, but also the overall risks to property, businesses and communities from fire, flood and escape of water during both the construction and occupied phases.
What is also clear is that regulatory change and a new regulator will similarly require new ways of working, more stringent requirements for record keeping through the ‘golden thread’ of information, wider consultation and approval of plans and progress through the three ‘gateway’ stages proposed plus a more robust approach to enforcement.
The implications of change will impact across the sector and include revised approaches for designers, contractors, clients, building control professionals, risk assessors, insurers and fire and rescue services. The breadth and depth of change should not be underestimated – nor the considerable opportunity to make widespread change for good be missed.
A workshop considering these issues and others affecting the construction sector titled “Managing the construction process to produce a more resilient environment” is being held at the Fire Sector Summit on Tuesday 5 November 2019 at One Great George Street, London SW1P 3AA.
Join the debate, as discussions held at the Summit contribute to the Fire Protection Association’s report for the Fire Minister, and the Building Regulations review.