Building regulation and fire safety

The Government has tasked Dame Judith Hackitt to undertake an independent review of the Building Regulations and Fire Safety. The BSA welcomes this decision as this decision is long overdue given that the last review of the Fire Safety Building Regulations and its associated Guidance, provided by Approved Document B (ADB), was over 10 years ago.

The BSA is calling for the review to be thorough and broad:

It must be thorough because:

  • Building-use patterns have changed since the last review: the distinction between industrial and storage buildings is becoming irrelevant as most manufacturing and large retail stores include significant space devoted to storage; while warehouses for internet sales’ distribution companies and waste processing now employ large numbers of staff and house valuable machinery.
  • Building materials and techniques have changed over the past 10 years: the increased use of sandwich panels, plastic fixtures and fittings and expanded plastics for packaging, and modern methods of construction all increase fire loading and impact on fire risk.
  • Anomalies in the current Guidance need to be rectified – for example, currently, both hotels and student accommodation are inappropriately exempted from the “high-rise residential” category
  • Product testing procedures need to be revised and:
  • The Regulations should form a part of a complete fire strategy so they complement changes in the Fire and Rescue Service and changes to other regulatory guidance to avoid, for example, energy efficiency Regulations impacting on fire risk.

The Review must also be broad because:

Currently, the Fire Safety Building Regulations aim for building design to ensure the safe evacuation of occupants in the event of a fire. However, they do not consider the protection of the building and its contents. Consequently, deaths and injuries because of fire are low, but buildings and their associated activities are regularly damaged and destroyed because of fire.

While the number of fires is declining, the cost of each fire has increased: fire insurance claims and costs rose from £812 million in 2004 to £1.247 billion in 2016 – with around 70% of that figure attributable to commercial fires.  But, over the same period, total fire claims’ numbers have halved.  Moreover, these figures do not include £150 million of business interruption costs arising from fires in commercial premises; these figures are provided by the Association of British Insurers, and a sizable proportion of commercial property is insured by companies which are not ABI members; and these figures do not include those who do not have insurance or who are underinsured. So, the total figures for the actual cost of fire within the commercial sector will be much higher. More broadly, the Fire Sector Federation has recently calculated that the total economic cost of fire annually is £9 billion.

The scale of these figures is in part understandable as recent research[1] has shown that the vast majority of business owners and managers are unaware that the Fire Safety Building Regulations are not designed to protect buildings and property against the devastating effects of fire and so UK plc is operating under a false sense of protection.

These costs can and should be reduced and so the overriding view in the fire sector is that the Fire Safety provisions of the Building Regulations should be designed to protect property as well as life. The Building Regulations would then ensure that future buildings are safe and sustainable with the effect that:

  • They protect both people and the buildings in which they live and work
  • Business buildings and businesses can be resilient to fire
  • The task of the Fire and Rescue Service can be safer, easier and cheaper
  • The cost of fire to the economy, the national finances and communities can be reduced
  • Environmental impacts of fire can be reduced – less air pollution and FRS water use, fewer carbon emissions, less damage to buildings, and less need to rebuild.

Dame Judith has announced a “call for evidence” to her review and called for submissions by 13 October:

New school buildings and fire safety

Building Bulletin 100 (BB100) is a design guide for fire safety in schools. In 2007, the Government introduced the “sprinkler expectation” into BB100 on the grounds that school building fire design needs to protect property as well as lives. The rationale was that protecting property safeguards the national finances and avoids interruption of children’s education.

Home office figures show there have been 1900 fires in schools over the past three years. The impact of these fires both financially and in terms of the disruption on students, teachers, families and the communities in which they serve can be devastating – pupils lose their usual place of learning, often then having to travel greater distances to unfamiliar and often very inappropriate temporary schooling facilities which impact on the children’s educational – and hence also life and career – potential. The installation of sprinkler systems in schools saves lives, improves public and firefighter safety and ensures the uninterrupted education of children whilst protecting whole communities from the destructive effects of fire.

The Government is currently reviewing BB100 and has suggested that the “sprinkler expectation” will be removed. The BSA wants the government to explicitly maintain the “sprinkler expectation” in the revised BB100 so that fewer schools are damaged and destroyed by fire.

[1] YouGov for the Business Sprinkler Alliance, 2016