The Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety has found that fundamental reform is needed to improve building safety and to rebuild trust among residents of high-rise buildings. At the heart of the new system will be a requirement for the construction industry to take responsibility for the delivery of safe buildings, rather than looking to others to tell them what is or is not acceptable. Dame Judith Hackitt was appointed by the government to lead the review in light of the system failures revealed by testing carried out in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. She has published her findings today (17 May 2018).
The British Woodworking Federation, whose members manufacture around three million fire doors in the UK each year, welcomes the recommendations of the highly anticipated Hackitt Review and urge Government to crack on with embracing these recommendations as soon as practicable.
A radical rethink in terms of tightening and clarifying regulation, enforcement, responsibility and control processes is long overdue. The report recognises the importance of Duty Holders, Competence, the need to align Construction Design and Management Regulations and establishing a Joint Competent Authority to manage and enforce. The proposals surrounding the exchange of information digitally too are fundamental to addressing the inadequacies in the handover process and the value engineering that often goes unnoticed.
We also welcome the guidance note issued yesterday by MHCLG that provided an emphatic endorsement that UKAS accredited third party certification of product and competence of installation and inspection is picked up as a priority – this is fundamental to safety reform. This is again mirrored by Dame Judith and we hope this means now that Government does intend to act fast. It is, however vital that we remember that this report is not the end, it is the beginning and we need the dots to be joined up and good guidance is embraced by robust regulation.
We do still have some reservations with the announcements from the Prime Minister yesterday. Whilst Government is finally grasping the fact that urgency is required, there still seems to be little recognition of the full scale of the problem. We know that cladding was a major reason the Grenfell fire turned from a potentially minor incident into a tragedy, but the cladding and external envelope is only part of the story. The condition of the fire doors and the specifically the performance of the Manse Masterdor fire doors have also been highlighted as a major concern and some more detailed advice has been issued, but, with our experience it is that this is just the tip of the iceberg - the question remains how do we set about and fund the fixing years of fire safety neglect?
Setting aside the issue of the Manse Masterdor fire doors, referenced, there remain a plethora of other challenges. For years, weak and fragmented legislation, combined with poor skills and control in construction and maintenance have undermined installation and failed to address inadequacies in inspection and maintenance regimes. We believe that there is a very deep-rooted problem and that many fire doors would struggle to halt the spread of major fire. It is now vitally important that we reset the clock!
Alongside a greater focus on fire safety and fire doors, a new financial mechanism is needed to enable local authorities, housing associations and others to access the funds required to upgrade safety recommendations that will emanate from the Risk Assessments that are being demanded. It is essential that we see the Treasury making an allocation for this too.
We are campaigning for the creation of a Building Safety Fund (similar to the Pension Protection Fund), which will offer a solution to the current predicament of Housing Associations and Local Authorities by providing them with a scheme to apply to for compensation to support these costs. The Fund would alleviate concerns while helping consolidate legal matters through a centrally controlled process. Although the cost of this may need to be born through insurance premiums, when we consider the true and ongoing cost of Grenfell, we cannot let it be ignored.
A quick summary of the main recommendations is below:
• Focus: the Review has focused its recommendations on buildings where there is a high level of risk to human safety in the event of the building being dangerous or catching fire. The primary focus is on high rise residential accommodation, but the Review also notes there are other types of buildings where there are risks due to people sleeping overnight, such as hospitals and residential care homes. It proposes a new regulatory regime to cover these buildings.
• New Regulatory Body: this is not proposing structural changes to existing organizations, but ensuring a more effective integration of the functions currently undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive, the local authority building control functions and the fire brigades, to ensure that there is greater co-ordination and communication about high-rise residential buildings. The Review also supports the use of digital technologies to provide comprehensive information about buildings and to help to manage these throughout their life cycle.
• New regulatory framework: this will aim to ensure both that designs are safe and that what was designed and specified is actually built (this has been identified as a key issue in relation to building safety, as design briefs are frequently changed during the construction phase), with limited scope to change this, and any changes to the agreed brief requiring approval. This will apply to both new build and major refurbishment projects.
• Duty Holder: this will create a requirement for a named individual to be responsible for ensuring building safety during every phase of the lifecycle of a building, from design through to management whilst it is occupied, with clear points of transition for the handing over of responsibilities between the designer, contractor and owner.
• Construction Product Safety: this makes proposals for a tighter testing regime, the disclosure of test data and more information about products, and a requirement for the regular retesting of construction products to ensure safety. How this should be delivered remains open, including the possibility responsibility could be given to the Office of Product Safety.
• Resident’s Concerns: there are recommendations on ensuring resident’s concerns can be easily raised, and how these can be escalated to the new regulator if a building owner does not act on them.
• Competency: this aims to ensure there will be an increased emphasis on safety in professional and occupational training for those in occupations relating to fire safety or who need a knowledge of this to undertake their roles within the new system, working with the organisations that lead on professional and vocational training (the Construction Industries Council and CITB).
You can read the full review here
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