National Fire Chiefs Chair Roy Wilsher reports on the work which continues apace to update the fire and building safety environment and deliver on the much-needed reforms.
At the time of writing, the Fire Safety Bill is about to enter its committee stage in the House of Lords, the government is reviewing the responses to its fire safety consultation and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee is writing its report to assist the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Building Safety Bill.
Whilst we welcome these changes and the investment that has been made so far, we have also expressed frustration at the pace of building remediation to date. Whilst we support government with our technical expertise and understanding of the sector, where we do not think the legislation goes far enough, or more clarification is required, we continue to challenge and push for changes.
One of the areas where we have taken action recently is around concerns about how waking watches are operating. Earlier this month a group of professional organisations, led by the NFCC, updated the simultaneous evacuation guidance, introducing a number of key changes.
Although remediation is the best way to ensure building safety, a proportionate approach to interim safety measures is required before remediation is completed. The guidance reinforced the expectation that building owners should install common fire alarms as quickly as possible to reduce or remove the dependence on waking watches. It also provides a clear distinction between waking watch and evacuation management as separate roles and emphasises that residents can carry out waking watches and/or evacuation management duties so long as they are appropriately trained.
“It is important to reiterate that the NFCC did not create the concept of waking watch and it remains our view that the best way to remove the risk to residents is to fix the building”
The guidance also provides new definitions. Short-term: the time required to formulate a longer-term remediation plan, as soon as practically possible and no longer than 12 months; and temporary: non-permanent measures implemented to mitigate an unacceptable risk in a building, as an interim measure, adopted for the safety of residents while works to rectify the identified fire safety failings are carried out.
It is important to reiterate that the NFCC did not create the concept of waking watch and it remains our view that the best way to remove the risk to residents is to fix the building.
Waking watches have been used prior to this current building safety crisis as a short-term measure in buildings with increased fire risks and should only be used temporarily. They should not be the first measure to mitigate risk and the government’s Consolidated Advice Note provides guidance on this. The Advice Note, Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings, clearly sets out the list of steps to consider, including other possible interim measures, before a decision is taken to move from a ‘stay put’ strategy to a ‘simultaneous evacuation strategy’ and implementing a waking watch.
Of course, we have huge sympathy for the plight of residents in buildings with non-compliant cladding systems and inherent building deficiencies; this situation is not the fault of residents, nor is it the fault of fire and rescue services who are doing their best to mitigate the risk. We do not believe that the costs of serious building defects should end with leaseholders and have called on government for support and to consider more ways of how costs can be recovered from those who design and construct buildings.
Whilst publishing the updated guidance was an important step, we are now looking at how we can best raise awareness of the changes. For example, we are working closely with the insurance industry, reinforcing the message that waking watches should only be considered when all other interim risk mitigation measures have been found to be insufficient in managing the risk. This collaborative work continues.
There are continued concerns relating to the EWS1 form and its impact on the housing market. We understand that EWS1 guidance is currently being reviewed by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
The NFCC continues to work closely with government and stakeholders to ensure that the measures being introduced are practical, enforceable and, most importantly, will help deliver safer buildings for residents.