Following a report last week by BBC’s Watchdog highlighting the hundreds of new build homes which are a fire risk, we are once again reminded of the dangerous gap between the expectation of safety, the reality of building regulations and the performance of buildings.
People assume that buildings are safe but if a building is built to regulations, what does that mean? What do people hear? Is it that the building complies with the statutory minimums to secure the health and safety of those in and around the building? In other words, you will escape the fire but your property is totally lost. Or do people hear their property is protected by fire so both they and their possessions will be safe and protected from fire? Or do people think we are safe from fire but there may be a little damage?
The issue is therefore a case of clarity and an understanding of what the terms mean. It’s not unusual to hear after a fire that the building complied with building regulations. The fire may well have been devastating in terms of property damage but it was a success in terms of regulation and we could do no more.
One only has to look at the devastating fire on New Year’s Eve at the Shurgard self-storage facility in Croydon as an example of the ambiguity and misunderstanding of building regulations. It was built to regulations but that did not stop the fire from destroying 1,198 rented units and the impact it had on the hundreds of people whose possessions were lost in the blaze. It was another painful reminder that fire does not discriminate; whether it is a self-storage warehouse, a university, a car park or an office, fires happen on a regular basis.
The issue raised by Watchdog needs to be addressed but at the same time we need to work to help people clearly understand it is the minimum required. Building regulations will not protect their property from being lost in the event of a fire. In the case of a new build home, it means meeting the minimum required. Fire spread in building voids and the time for a fire to break out of a room will be limited and the occupants will have time to escape.
Regulation and guidance is about minimums but all too often the minimum is not clearly defined or communicated. The protection of property is often misunderstood. A recent YouGov survey found that 69% of the businesses polled thought that following Building Regulations’ Approved Document B (ADB) guidance meant that their business premises and contents would be adequately protected from fire events. It doesn’t, but it should.
The decision to review Building Regulations Approved Document B (ADB) is welcomed by the BSA and many construction organisations across the industry. Property protection should be a consideration of the ADB guidance to make buildings of the future resilient to fire. If you want to be resilient to fire you cannot rely on the minimum.