The Fire Sector Federation reports on recommending that the government’s review of the Architects Act 1997 address the need for the highest level of competence in fire safety within architectural practice
In its submission to the consultation, the Federation proposes that British architects registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) must meet a level of competence in fire safety that is scrutinised throughout their career. The ARB has the responsibility for prescribing the qualifications and practical experience required for the entry onto the UK Register of Architects.
A number of surveys and discussions have highlighted significant variation in architects’ understanding of fire safety and the behaviour of fire within buildings. In some cases, knowledge of the basic principles of fire safety is surprisingly low. Architects are the key founding partner with the client in building design and their competence is essential to securing safe construction. It is therefore imperative that regulation of that process includes fire safety.
Establishing the criteria for the assessment of competence in fire safety will require a collaborative approach that draws on the expertise of professional fire safety experts outwith architectural practice.
The Federation supports the proposal that the ARB should monitor and assess architects’ competency throughout their career. Greater emphasis on fire risks would have a beneficial impact on safety for the built environment.
Continuing professional development would ensure that architects remain up-do-date on the rapid evolution of new materials, practices, manufacturing processes within the construction industry.
There is often a tendency to rely upon regulatory requirements and the advice of manufacturers and other specialists for interpretation rather than being able to exercise personal judgement. This suggests that architects themselves should be better able to make decisions and challenge those outside their practice as they determine whether the concepts and strategies they intend to adopt and use to underpin building safety are robust.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) recognises the need for proper understanding of fire safety and continuous assessment. In its submission to the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, RIBA stated: ‘UK architectural education therefore includes in broad terms the legislative framework for ensuring the health, safety and welfare of both construction workers and building users, in terms of health and safety regulations and building regulations. However, it is noticeable that there is no explicit reference within the criteria to design for fire safety as a specific element of technical design and regulatory compliance, and the RIBA proposes that as part of the current review of ARB prescription criteria the issue of design for fire safety should be given greater prominence. RIBA visiting boards should ensure that evidence of addressing design for fire safety is provided by schools of architecture seeking validation or re-validation of courses’.
The Fire Sector Federation fully supports a review of the regulatory environment for architects and the proposals to introduce appropriate levels of competence checks and CPD. It is an opportunity to introduce and maintain the highest levels of fire safety knowledge across architectural practice in the UK, which ultimately contributes to safer buildings for all.