New measures to improve building safety standards
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced new measures which, he says, will go faster and further to improve building safety
The slow pace of improving building safety standards will not be tolerated, the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick warned last month, as he announced measures that go further and faster to ensure residents are safe in their homes.
To give effective oversight of the design, construction and occupation of high-risk buildings – a regulator will be at the heart of a new regime – and established as part of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Building owners are responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe and where there is no clear plan for remediation, the government will work with local authorities to support them in their enforcement options.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Jenrick also made clear that from this month he will start to name building owners where remediation has not started to remove unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding from their buildings.
While government action in this area has led to considerable progress to remove unsafe cladding, there are still some building owners who have been too slow to act.
Jenrick confirmed the government will consult on extending the ban on combustible materials to buildings below 18 metres and will seek views on how risks are assessed within existing buildings to inform future policy.
The package comes as the Prime Minister has written to the Chairman of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, updating him on the government’s response to Phase 1.
The Prime Minister and Housing Secretary also met with bereaved, survivors and residents of the Grenfell Tower fire in Downing Street last month.
Jenrick said: “The government is committed to bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation. Progress on improving building safety needs to move significantly faster to ensure people are safe in their homes and building owners are held to account.
“That’s why today [January 20] I’m announcing a major package of reforms, including establishing the Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive to oversee the new regime and publishing consolidated guidance for building owners.
“Unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks, I will publicly name building owners where action to remediate unsafe ACM cladding has not started. There can be no more excuses for delay, I’m demanding immediate action.”
The package of measures includes:
Building Safety Regulator
The HSE will begin to establish the new regulator in shadow form immediately, ahead of it being fully established, following legislation.
It will raise building safety and performance standards, including overseeing a new, more stringent regime for higher-risk buildings.
With a strong track record of working with industry and other regulators to improve safety, they will draw on experience and the capabilities of other regulators to implement the new regime. Dame Judith Hackitt will chair a Board to oversee the transition.
Chair of the HSE, Martin Temple, said: “We are proud the government has asked HSE to establish the new Building Safety Regulator.
“HSE’s vast experience of working in partnership with industry and others to improve lives will ensure people are confident the creation of the new regulator is in good hands.
Advice on Building Safety
Recent high-rise fires, including that in a block of student flats in Bolton in November 2019, have highlighted that many building owners have still not taken sufficient measures to ensure the safety of residents in buildings at all heights.
The government-appointed independent expert advisory panel (IEAP) has clarified and updated advice to building owners on actions they should take to ensure their buildings are safe, with a focus on their external wall systems, commonly referred to as cladding.
This consolidated advice simplifies the language, consolidates previous advice into one place, and – vitally – makes clear that building owners need to do more to address safety issues on residential buildings under 18 metres.
It additionally reflects the independent panel view that cladding material comprised of ACM (and other metal composites) with an unmodified polyethylene core should not be on residential buildings of any height and should be removed.
A call for evidence will also be published, seeking views on the assessment of risks within existing buildings. This important step will help to gather ideas and lead to research that will provide a firm evidence base to guide decisions for both existing buildings and future regulatory regimes.
The consolidated advice also makes clear the actions building owners should take in relation to fire doors. The government has welcomed the commitment by the Association of Composite Door Manufacturers to work with building owners to remediate their doors which failed tests.
Government says it will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that this commitment is followed through.
Remediation of Buildings with ACM Cladding
To speed up remediation, government will be appointing a construction expert to review remediation timescales and identify what can be done to improve pace in the private sector.
To ensure cost is not a barrier to remediation, the government is considering different options to support the remediation of buildings. Government are examining options to mitigate costs for individuals or provide alternative financing routes.
Combustible cladding ban
The government has also launched a consultation into the current combustible cladding ban, including proposals to lower the 18 metre height threshold to at least 11 metres.
The government’s consultation on sprinklers and other measures for new build flats concluded on 28 November 2019.
Government has proposed lowering the height threshold for sprinkler requirements in new buildings and will set out detailed proposals on how it will deliver the technical review of fire guidance this month.
Fire Safety Bill
The government has also set out further details of the upcoming Fire Safety Bill being introduced to parliament, which it set out in more detail in its response to the Public Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations.
This will clarify the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – ‘the Fire Safety Order’ – requiring residential building owners to fully consider and mitigate the risks of any external wall systems and front doors to individual flats.
The changes will make it easier to enforce where building owners have not remediated unsafe ACM by complementing the powers under the Housing Act.
Federation acknowledges the government’s step change into action on building fire safety
The Fire Sector Federation has acknowledged and welcomed the announcement made by the government in advance of a debate in parliament on the Grenfell Tower fire
The delay in positive action has been a deep cause of concern to Federation members so the outlined steps, particularly the role of the Health and Safety Executive and a new Act, are seen as helping move the whole process forward.
Federation members have been working together with many others for more than two years to improve fire safety by advancing standards and quality. Picking up the theme highlighted by the Building Safety Review of ‘not marking your own homework’ and developing third party assurance for people and products, the Federation has called for fast tracking third party certification by recognising it within formal guidance and using third party assured companies to supply products and services, like fire risk assessments.
The Federation hopes that the government announcement demonstrates that a serious transition step, of turning deliberation and advice into action, is now actually starting.
Federation Chairman, Michael Harper, said: “Having called for a decade of change to prevent another tragedy and to help ensure we have a UK built environment safer from fire I welcome and acknowledge on behalf of the Fire Sector Federation the government’s significant announcement and commitment to improve building fire safety.”
Positive response to building fire safety statement
London Fire Brigade has welcomed the reduced height for sprinklers in new high-rise buildings as a “massive step in the right direction”
Responding to the announcement made by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, in the Commons on Monday 20 January, London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Dan Daly, said: “London Fire Brigade welcomes the announcement on building safety made by the Secretary of State.
“In our response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, we called on the government to design a new building safety regulatory system to prevent tragedies, rather than reacting to them.
“The proposal to introduce sprinklers into new builds above a height of 11 metres, down from the current threshold of 30 metres, is a massive step in the right direction and something we called for and fully support.
“It is also right that action is taken to name and shame building owners who are putting residents at risk by not removing dangerous cladding.
“We welcome the confirmation that the Private Sector Cladding Remediation Fund is to be expanded but are disappointed that works are not progressing as quickly as we would hope in some buildings.
“While the measures being taken are a step in the right direction, there is still much more detail needed before we are satisfied that the fundamental change required has been delivered.”
Concern over two-streamed approach
The Fire Protection Association responds to government’s announcement for new safety regulator
The Fire Protection Association’s Managing Director, Jonathan O’Neill, said: “As you would expect we wholeheartedly welcome any strengthening of Building Regulations and look forward to seeing the details. However, we remain concerned about the creation of a two-stream approach with the so-called ‘Hackitt Buildings’ being under a different regime than that which covers the majority of other buildings, including those where the majority of deaths and injuries actually occur.
“We are similarly supportive of a review of the height restrictions for combustible materials on buildings but remain firmly of the view that combustible materials should be banned on all high-risk buildings regardless of their height.”
Sparking safety – government announces electrical checks for private rented properties
Electrical Safety First has welcomed the government bringing mandatory electrical safety checks into force as a “success for millions of renters and their landlords”
Responding to the announcement of the imminent introduction of mandatory electrical safety checks in the private rented sector (PRS), Martyn Allen, Technical Director at Electrical Safety First, commented: “[This] commitment by the government to bring mandatory electrical safety checks into force, is a success for millions of renters and their landlords in England.
“It is long overdue for the dangers posed by electricity in the home to be taken as seriously as that of gas, so this legislation provides essential protection for millions. But, while we welcome this crucial step in protecting tenants, electrical safety should not be a ‘tenure lottery’. Electrical Safety First would like to see this regulation extended to the social housing sector in the very near future.
“We have heard harrowing tales of fatal accidents caused by unsafe electrics in rented properties. This new regulation – which we believe will benefit tenants and landlords by protecting both people and property – will help ensure such tragedies don’t happen again. Tenants will finally be able to hold landlords to account for the safety of electrics in their rented homes. And, while most landlords already ensure their properties are safe, this new law offers clarity and helps private landlords protect their assets through regular upkeep of the electrics in their properties. But it is essential the new regulation has teeth and the enforcement body has the resources to take action effectively.”
Mike Smith, Technical Director of the ECA, also welcomed this new commitment to electrical safety. He added: “The dangers posed by electricity need to be taken seriously and they should be properly managed. It’s vitally important that landlords have the information they need to fully understand and carry out their new legal obligations. And that testing and inspection is carried out by an enterprise that’s been certificated by a reputable third party as competent to carry out these activities. ECA has long been working with its industry partners to raise safety standards in the PRS and we will now work with our members – and the wider industry – to help ensure that the electrical safety of all PRS properties get the professional attention they need.”
These views were echoed by John O’Neill, Technical Director at NICEIC and ELECSA, who said: “We remain committed to working with industry partners and other stakeholders, to raise standards both in the PRS and across the industry generally.”
European association invites collaboration with fire community
With growing recognition of the challenges facing the fire sector across Europe, the European Association for Passive Fire Protection brought together a number of European and global fire organisations at its meeting in Edinburgh to discuss possible areas for collaboration
Each organisation was keen to share its knowledge and experience in a bid to improve fire safety and raise standards of build quality and education throughout Europe. Representatives from Construction Products Europe, the Confederation of Fire Protection Associations Europe, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and the Institution of Fire Engineers met with European Association for Passive Fire Protection (EAPFP) members and provided an overview of their organisations’ activities.
EAPFP President Miroslav Smolka welcomed all the guests to the event and provided a brief introduction to the EAPFP. He stated that the EAPFP mission is to enable building owners in Europe to obtain good and reliable passive fire protection products, which are properly installed so they deliver the declared fire safety performance. Therefore, EAPFP aims to explain and facilitate use of European legislation and standards; and inform, educate and develop the market and promote the use of good and properly installed products.
Christophe Sykes of Construction Products Europe explained that the association brings together more than 50 national and EU associations to lobby on the internal market legal framework and EU sustainable construction initiatives. He highlighted the implementation delay that characterises most of our updated CE marking standards as a result of legal arguments. He explained that Construction Products Europe is calling for a common agreement to improve the EU standardisation process. He discussed other issues and opportunities for improved collaboration, such as the regulatory framework (EU – Member States) for the fire assessment of facades methods, the enhanced integration of Extended Application (EXAP) standards in the harmonised system, and test methods and classification updates from CEN/TC 127.
For further information on the EAPFP, visit: www.eapfp.com