The Government has written to council leaders, building inspectors and fire chiefs to highlight new recommendations for building safety, following a damning report on current building regulations and compliance in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy that killed 71 in June last year.
The interim report from the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety published in December 2017 found poor enforcement of regulations is “leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.”
Furthermore a lack of clarity about roles and duties throughout the system mean “people are not aware of their responsibilities and often assume they are for someone else to do.”
A circular letter sent out in response by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government sets out three recommendations it considers “essential requirements for delivering safe buildings within the current regulatory framework,” to be implemented immediately.
The letter recommends input and support from fire and rescue services is sought “at the earliest stage possible so that fire safety can be fully designed in,” after the report found “fire and rescue service personnel may raise concerns about compliance...which are not acted upon because of cost, because the building work is too far advanced to make changes or because their advice is ignored.“
To bridge gaps in fire safety information transfer between those undertaking construction and those managing the building once occupied, the letter's recommendation states building control bodies must ensure this information is transferred and seek proof of the transfer taking place.
Finally, building developers must implement a formal review and handover process before any part of a new high-rise building is occupied, to ensure that in cases of partial occupancy safety alterations identified during completion can be properly incorporated.
The interim report also recommended fire risk assessments of high rise and complex buildings be undertaken “at least annually” and whenever significant changes are made.
Currently there are no statutory registration or accreditation requirements for fire risk assessors undertaking risk assessments on complex and high-risk buildings in the UK, compared with stringent competency rules practised by other countries including the USA, China and Dubai.
Chair of the review Dame Judith Hackitt said she was “shocked” by some practices revealed so far.
“As the review has progressed, it has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.”
“What is initially designed is not what is being built, and quality assurance of materials and people is seriously lacking,” she said. “I have been shocked by some of the practices I have heard about.”
Institute of Fire Safety Managers welcomed all of the interim report's recommendations for improvements.
The Fire Sector Federation (FSF) also lent its backing. Chair Paul Fuller said “The FSF has long expressed concern about the current system of fire safety regulation and enforcement and the clear need to define competency requirements for all professionals involved.”
“We strongly support the call for clearly defined responsibility throughout a building’s lifecycle and for the establishment of formal accreditation and raised levels of competence for all those engaged in fire prevention within the built environment.”
The final report from the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety is due in May 2018.
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