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Built environment professions discuss fire safety and regulatory change

The RIBA presents its position on fire safety, regulatory change and publishes guidance on professional indemnity insurance.

15 March 2018

Read the RIBA Insurance Agency Guidance on Professional Indemnity Insurance in relation to cladding on high rise buildings.

At the end of February the RIBA hosted a Fire Safety Breakfast Briefing where members of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety discussed regulatory change with leaders in construction and fire safety, to share current expert knowledge and intelligence developed since the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower.

Jane Duncan, Immediate Past President of the RIBA and Chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety stated, ‘being President of the RIBA at the time, I was absolutely determined that we were going to use every power that we had as architects to make a change’ and that the devastating event has ‘focused national and international attention on the safety of tower blocks, specifically in terms on fire management and protection’.

RIBA Executive Director of Professional Services, Adrian Dobson, presented the current RIBA policy position and recommendations for a baseline level of prescriptive requirements, put forward to the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt, which included:

  • External wall construction for existing or new buildings with a storey 18m or more above ground to be comprised of non-combustible (European class A1) materials only.
  • In all new multiple occupancy residential buildings, a requirement for at least two staircases, offering alternative means of escape, where the top floor is more than 11m above ground level or the top floor is more than three storeys above the ground level storey.
  • Retro-fitting of sprinklers / automatic fire suppression systems to existing residential buildings above 18m from ground level in height as “consequential improvements” where a building is subject to 'material alterations.'
  • Mandatory requirement for sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems in all new and converted residential buildings.

The finding of the interim report from the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety that fire safety in ‘higher risk’ or ‘complex’ buildings should be addressed through a risk-based system based on performance requirements is of concern to the RIBA, as Dobson states, ‘we are not aware of any successful Building Control system internationally that does not have a significant prescriptive element’.

Paul Bussey, Senior Technical Consultant at AHMM and RIBA Expert Advisory Group member, explained that 'AHMM have are developing with NBS and other industry collaborators a system to apply H&S and passive fire protection in specifications using identification symbols to highlight products of significant importance that should not be value engineered'.

Bussey is also leading on development of a RIBA Plan of Work Fire Safety Overlay with joint input from the Association for Specialist Fire Protection. Its aim is to clarify the responsibilities of all members of the project team and the outputs required at each work stage.

Dobson stated that CDM 2015 could be used as a model to assign statutory responsibility to key roles and provide an enforcement system for the fire and life safety of buildings. Simon Longbottom (Head of Construction Policy at HSE), explained that 'CDM 2015 provides clear roles and accountability for the client, designers and contractors from concept to completion, making risk creators responsible for risk management'.

Construction Lawyer, Emily Monastiriotis (Partner at Simmons & Simmons) confirmed that post Grenfell there is a trend of exclusions for certain types of cladding in professional indemnity policies. Such exclusions may mean that ‘a professional won’t have PI cover in relation to cladding or insulation wall panelling that does not comply with the relevant regulatory regime or that it will only be covered for the cost of remedial works and not consequential losses which can often be significant’. The RIBA Insurance Agency has published Guidance on Professional Indemnity Insurance in relation to cladding on high rise buildings.

Gary Strong explained that 'the RICS has always maintained that buildings need to be looked at holistically, and not just focused on the cladding issues. That is the means of escape, the passive fire protection, the evacuation policy, using a fire engineered approach to assess each building individually'.

Speakers suggested a holistic review is needed to encompass the complexity within the regulations, inspections and enforcement process. Equally, due regard needs to be given to the importance of Regulation 38 and of building users understanding the fire management plan.

Jane Duncan’s closing observations took stock of not just the immediate issues at hand, but offered a broader perspective, stating that ‘we need to think more about people…would you put your child to live in a flat or work in a hospital where you know things are not right, and how combustible are you prepared to let that building be, if your child is going to live in it? Is that an easy question to answer? It’s certainly easy for me’.

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