Assistant Editor, SHP

October 13, 2021

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Building Safety

Are industry professionals confident in the new Building Safety Bill?

In the latest episode of the Fire Protection Association’s (FPA) Assembly Point podcast, Managing Director, Jonathan O’Neil OBE, explores the introduction of the new Building Safety Bill with three fire safety experts to find out their opinion on the proposed legislation, and whether they believe it can prevent another tragic event like Grenfell from happening again. SHP reports on some of the key takeaways from the discussion. 

JonathanONeill-FPA-20

Jonathan O Neill, FPA

Allan Meek, Director of Group SCS, is the first to share his opinion on the passing, querying whether the vast amount of money and manpower needed to assess already built buildings is truly viable. Meek draws attention to the problematic nature of enforcing the legislation in residential buildings, unlikely to have qualified employees responsible for carrying out weekly checks.

Niall Rowan, Representative from the Association of Specialist Fire Protection, echoes Allan in his belief that the passing of the Bill will be a huge learning curve for the industry, from developers, to designers, to end-users, everyone will be affected in some way.

The importance of third-party certification is a common theme throughout the talk, all parties argue that professionals should be lobbying for its use as an easier way for end-users to have confidence that they are engaging in business with competent providers.

Russ Timpson, Founder of the Tall Building Network, highlights the fact that the current testing regime for products used on new builds, trails behind the number of new products being created. Though noting the Building Safety Bill will encourage more digitisation of processes such as BIM, Timpson also articulates the distain felt by professionals over the Government’s decision to not ‘properly’ fund the removal of cladding from effected buildings.

“We have to look at construction and buildings in a far more resilient way”, argues Russ. “Current Building Regulations are predicated on life safety only…many fire engineering buildings which pass their commissioning tests simply aren’t able to withstand the rigours of wear and tear once passed.”

One question posed by O’Neill, regarding the focus of the new regime, is whether concentrating solely on the safety of tall buildings, with cladding is the right approach. All three experts agree on the importance of dealing with cladded buildings as a priority, however, a worry of those in the industry is that equally dangerous low-rise buildings will be forgotten about.

Rowan brings to listeners attention, the case of Beachmere Care Home, a low-rise building, destroyed in a blaze that swept through the timber-framed structure in 2019. This fixation on dealing solely with high-rise buildings could lead to a decline in the those dealing with other, equally dangerous constructions.

Shortages in the number of people regulating changes, such as fire risk assessors, highlighted in the new legislation is also a concern of industry specialists. Experts draw attention to cases of neglected fire systems and argue that, a growth in competency since the events at Grenfell is something we have yet to see.

One positive change the panel hope the new Building Safety Bill will bring, is a wave of new, suitably qualified employees being recruited into the industry.

The importance of fire protection systems being regularly mandated and maintained is a topic the group discuss at length in the episode. High rise buildings are extremely complex, Firefighters are never going to have complete knowledge of all the buildings they are called to, therefore having correctly designed, installed and commissioned fire systems, ensures their job can run as smoothly as possible.

As well as this, building managers need to be asking themselves, ‘what would we do if those systems stopped working?’ The experts argue that, in most cases, important issues like these aren’t being suitably addressed.

O’Neill concludes the podcast by asking the experts whether they believe the agreed legislation will in fact have any real effect on the prevention of fire in high-rise buildings. The consensus from all parties is that, yes, the changes set out in the new Building Safety Bill, will help to prevent fire in high-rise structures. Rowan does however highlight that, if the question asked was, will the new Building Safety Bill prevent another serious fire overall, the answer would be a firm no. Timpson ends the discussion by stressing the importance of looking forward post the tragic events at Grenfell. We must, of course, be reactive and deal with the now, but we must also think ahead about what challenges the industry may be set to face in the future, such as the move towards zero carbon living.

To listen to the full episode, click here.

Fire safety in 2020 eBook – A year of challenges and change

Download the Fire Safety in 2020 eBook, from IFSEC Global and FIREX International, to keep up-to-date with the biggest stories of the year. It includes the latest legislation, Grenfell Tower Inquiry revelations and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected professionals in the sector.

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