Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety – Final Report

Mitch Gee, Executive Chairman

The much-anticipated Independent Review of the Building Regulations was published last week. I have yet to read the full report but will endeavour to do so over the coming weeks and submit a fuller response to its contents.

Since her interim report in December, Dame Judith Hackitt has unearthed further evidence that the regulatory system for high rise is not fit for purpose. It does not just relate to cladding systems but for the industry as a whole.

The report was damning of the industry listing key issues for its failure:

  • Ignorance
  • Indifference
  • Lack of clarity and responsibility
  • Inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools

She states there needs to be a clear model of risk ownership with clear responsibilities for the client designer, contractor and owner. It must be ‘outcomes-based’ rather than based on prescriptive rules and complex guidance with serious consequences for those who try to ‘game the system’. The model is dependent on competent people thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for their decisions. This is a breath of fresh air in our ‘tick box’ society where we are guilty of hiding behind guidelines that are at best confusing and at worst contradictory.

The report states the building must be considered as a system and not just a collection of products stitched together. Transparency of information and an audit trail. I am amazed in my own experience, how poor many of the archives are for construction projects. In an era of digital technology, one would expect the opposite, but contractors appear to invest very little in keeping good ordered records.

The report calls for systematic change which will require legislative change and it should not only consider new buildings, but look at our existing housing stock.

One has to compliment Dame Judith Hackitt on her ability to grasp the weaknesses in the current systems and culture of the building industry that results in ‘a race to the bottom’ for the construction and refurbishment of housing. We live in a tick-box culture that invades our society, the construction industry being no different in this regard. Dame Judith appreciates that there needs to be a shift change in this culture. It’s a big ask – can it be achieved?

Dame Judith, an Engineer by profession provides a pragmatic rational approach to solving some of the systemic failings in the system which ultimately resulted in the tragedy of Grenfell. She proposes to do this without restricting the industry to a limited range of products it can use on high rise cladding. As an industry we wish to build exciting, varied buildings, cost effectively and without compromising on safety. The report’s proposals should allow us to do that.

The politically more palatable solution however, is to only use non-combustible products over 18m. This may result in unnecessarily limiting the options for exciting design for architects, creating capacity issues and resultant inflation in the supply chain. We are already seeing price rises well above inflation in the supply of some non-combustible elements of high rise cladding. This will not solve the systemic problems that Dame Judith Hackitt has identified and most of us agree exist.

We wait therefore as the government consults on whether to ban everything but non combustible materials on high rise buildings.

It would be great to get feedback from the membership before we formulate INCA’s official position.

Comments on, “Amendments to statutory guidance on assessments in lieu of test in Approved document B (Fire Safety)’’

Mitch Gee, Executive Chairman

Dame Judith Hackett’s interim review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety advised that the Government should significantly restrict the use of desktop studies to approve changes to cladding systems.

The Secretary of State made the following commitment:

‘’On desktop studies we will revise the approved documents on fire safety and commission work to produce a new British Standard on how such assessments can be used.’’

There are 4 routes to compliance:

  • Linear route – all elements of the façade are of limited construction or better (non-combustible in Scotland)
  • Fire safety engineering route – the whole building is assessed for spread of fire which is undertaken by a fire engineer
  • Undertake full scale fire test BS8414
  • Assessment in lieu of test – this route will be available if there is only a slight variation in design from the original BS8414 test.

The consultation paper seeks views on whether Government should prohibit the use of assessments in lieu of tests either for all fire tests classifications or for the fire test classifications relating to BS8414 full scale cladding test.

I think most in the EWI industry would support this approach as the EWI sector has traditionally undertaken full-scale fire tests for systems offered for use over 18m. It is obviously not practical to eliminate all assessments in lieu of tests, but as an industry we would support there use be significantly curtailed.

The current Building Regulations require that the external walls on all buildings adequately resist the spread of fire. This needs to be demonstrated in one of two ways:

  • Each individual component of the wall meets the required standard for combustibility
  • That all combined elements of a wall when tested as a whole adequately resist the spread of fire to meet a set standard.

Some assessments in lieu of tests of cladding systems have been criticised for their lack of supporting data. An assessment in lieu of test should be an extrapolation or interpolation of relevant existing test data, not an estimate. Questions have been raised over the competence of some assessment authors. The Government is proposing to issue amendments to Appendix A of Part B of the building regulations which will clarify the existing text and create new requirements for assessment in lieu of tests.

The Government has commissioned the British Standards Institution (BSI) to draft a standard for the extended application of BS8414 results.

Two scenarios are being considered:

  1. Make no changes to Approved document B to restrict the use of assessments in lieu of tests
  2. Issue amendments to Appendix A of approved document B and implement the changes which are being consulted on.

Alternatively, they could prohibit assessments for all fire tests or those specifically relating to BS8414.

The impact assessments predict a 25% increase in the cost of undertaking a more rigorous assessment in lieu of test in option 2, there being more assessments in lieu of tests as there will be greater confidence in them. The calculated impact of implementing proposed change to document B is £8.0m.

It should be noted that fire tests do not directly measure fire hazard. Performance in fire tests is only one of a number of factors that should be taken into account.

The policy objective is to tighten up the use of assessments in lieu of tests and ensure they are only used where appropriate with sufficient relevant test evidence, and they are undertaken by competent staff within appropriately certified organisations.

INCA’s position is that there should be least assessments in lieu of tests and more full-scale tests, which would reduce the potential for substituting products and increasing the risk of compromising the original system. There may be some requirement for minor changes such as fixing numbers or manufacturer, or different coloured finishes.

We welcome the input from our members before we respond to the consultation. We will be responding on Tuesday 22nd May.

The Independent Review of Building Regulations – What can we expect from the Hackitt Review?

Anna Wesson, INCA Manager

On Tuesday 8 May, INCA was represented at the Build UK Industry Response Group briefing. The Industry Response Group is a panel of Government and Industry experts who have met weekly since the fire at Grenfell Tower to understand the impact of the disaster on the construction industry, and the steps that can be taken to mitigate any issues.

A number of speakers attended the event, including Rob Leach from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and Graham Watts from the Construction Industry Council (CIC). However the presentation that will be most interesting to members was given by Andrew Pattison who is part of Dame Judith Hackitt’s team. He is part of the Independent Review of Building Regulations.

It is likely, though unconfirmed, that the Review will be released next week. Andrew explained that we can expect a review that is systemic in its perspective and that reflects the need for every part of the construction ‘system’ to change. We can also, as anticipated, expect a report that is a starting point to effect a culture change in construction, rather than a list of actions or obligations.

The report is likely to advocate a reinvigorated regulator, ensuring more effective regulatory oversight of construction, occupation and maintenance. This, it will be argued, should be supported by a stronger enforcement and sanctions package that supports culture change.

Further to this, the report is likely to point to the need for clear responsibilities throughout the supply chain, for clients, designers, contractors and those involved in a building’s construction through to occupation. The change is needed for residents to be safe and feel safe in their homes.

Dame Judith’s report is likely to contain some further recommendations for the construction industry. These will have significant implications for members.

They include:

  • More demanding competence requirements for those carrying out building works
  • A more robust testing regime with increased traceability
  • Ensuring that those who are responsible for meeting building regulations are clear on the suitability of materials
  • Robust change control mechanisms and information management during design, construction and occupation.

Clearly some of the changes that we can expect from the report can be driven by industry. Others will need legislation that must be written by the Government. The message that we can expect to hear loudly when the Review is published is that wholesale culture change in construction is required. INCA must consider what this means for our members. We’d like to hear your views on this, the future of construction and the external wall insulation industry.