Publication - Minutes

Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel minutes: December 2018

Published: 20 Dec 2018
Date of meeting: 4 Dec 2018
Location: DoubleTree by Hilton, Edinburgh Airport

Minutes of the meeting of the Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel that took place on 4 December 2018.

Published:
20 Dec 2018
Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel minutes: December 2018

Attendees and apologies

Present

  • Dr Paul Stollard, Chair

Members present

  • Prof Sam Alwinkle, Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists
  • Brian Ashe, Australian Building Control Board, Australia*
  • Prof Luke Bisby, University of Edinburgh
  • Stewart Dalgarno, Construction Scotland
  • Damien Fairley, Northern Ireland Building Regulations
  • Alan McAulay, Local Authority Building Standards Scotland
  • Keith McGillivray, British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association
  • Brian Meacham, Meacham Associates (formerly Worcester Polytechnic Institute),USA*
  • Dave Latto, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
  • Colin Todd, CS Todd Associates Ltd.

Scottish Government

  • Clyde Ashby
  • Stephen Garvin
  • Colin Hird
  • Steven Scott

Apologies

  • Colin Blick, Welsh Government
  • Stephen Good, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre
  • Rainer Mikulits, Austrian Institute of Construction Engineering (OIB)*
  • Dr Debbie Smith, BRE Global
  • IJsbrand van Straalen, Dutch research organization TNO*
  • Mike Wood, Fire Sector Federation

* Member of the International sub-group

Items and actions

1. Welcome, introductions and apologies            

The Chair welcomed members of the review panel to the fourth meeting.

The chair reported on his telephone conversation with Dr Debbie Smith yesterday in which they discussed the briefing paper and he had undertaken to convey her views at this meeting. He also reported on an email received from IJsbrand van Straalen, which he would refer to at the relevant parts of the meeting. 

Recent developments 

Scottish Government officials updated the members with developments on the Compliance and Enforcement Review Panel (chaired by John Cole) and the Inventory of High Rise Buildings (over 18 m) which has been created. They also informed members of what is being done in England through Building Regulations Amendment 2018 Statutory Instrument, which sets prescriptive standards for the external walls of residential buildings, hospitals and care homes over 18m, and comes into force on 21 December 2018.

There was an awareness among members of what is being revealed by the concurrent public inquiry and an acceptance that this could inform further changes to Scottish standards and guidance. It is clear that the interim report (Phase 1) will not be available before the middle of next year, although interim recommendations might proceed this.

2. The current structure of the Building Standards 

The Review Panel Report in June had concluded that the current structure of mandatory functional standards supported with performance based or prescriptive guidance in the Technical Handbooks worked and should be retained. This had been supported in the public consultation.

Clarification of guidance and routes to compliance

It was now agreed that the Technical Handbooks should make clearer the status, functions and limitations of the guidance and that this should be done by revising the guidance at the start of Section 2 Fire to reinforce the following:

  1. The guidance contained within the Technical Handbook indicates only one, or sometimes more than one, means of complying with the functional mandatory building standards 2.1 to 2.15 and that other approaches are acceptable especially those working from first principles.
  2. For the majority of projects, it is envisaged that following the guidance will be the usual means of showing that compliance with the mandatory standards has been achieved.
  3. But that, due to the generic nature of the guidance, it cannot cover all building designs and that in some cases it would be inappropriate to follow the guidance.
  4. In such cases the designer will be required to show, that compliance with the building standards will be achieved in the completed building.
  5. That even where the guidance is applicable, the designer may choose a different means of showing that the building standards have been met.
  6. That for buildings out with the scope of the technical handbooks they may continue to provide some guidance.
  7. That “trade off” and “compensatory features” may not always be appropriate where the building design offers compliance with the functional standards although not precisely following the guidance.

Separate guidance for dwellings

It was agreed that there was merit in developing a separate guidance document, or documents, for dwellings or different categories of dwellings.  This should cover all standards, not just fire. There was support for the idea of this being developed jointly with both house builders and verifiers then being designated as a Technical Handbook.

Separate publication of annexes

It was agreed that the current Annexes to Section 2 Fire would be better produced as separate documents. This would permit regular updating, which was felt to be particularly important in the case of enclosed Shopping Centres. In the case of the one for hospitals, there was support for the idea of this being developed jointly with the NHS and designated as a Technical Handbook. Similarly, the one for Residential Care Homes could be a joint publication with the Care Commission with the same status.

Revision to the functional standard

It was agreed that the functional standard for 2.4 “Cavities” should change from:

Every building must be designed and constructed in such a way that in the event of an outbreak of fire within the building, the unseen spread of fire and smoke within concealed spaces in its structure and fabric is inhibited.”

to:

Every building must be designed and constructed in such a way that in the event of an outbreak of fire within the building, the spread of fire and smoke within cavities in its structure and fabric is inhibited.

It was also suggested that the use of the phrase “an outbreak of fire within the building”, should be further reviewed to ensure that the risk of fire to the building from an outbreak of fire out with the building is being adequately considered. Some members felt that this could be easily resolved by removing the words “within the building” from the paragraph suggested above.

3. Verification of fire safety engineering 

It remained the view of members that a better mechanism is required for the verification of fire safety engineering solutions for complex buildings and this might be in the form of a national “hub” to verify such applications. This would support the further aims of the parallel review of Compliance and Enforcement on such matters. 

It was now agreed that this this should be on a short to medium term basis until there is more capacity within the profession of fire engineering. It was felt essential to define before commencement the types of projects that might be handled by the “hub”. To avoid it being brought into too many minor schemes, the “hub” must have the power to refuse project requests and possibly have the power to “call in” schemes over which it had concern.  

It was agreed that experts with appropriate knowledge, skills and competence in fire engineering must staff the “hub” and that ideally these should include secondments from local authorities and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. It was agreed that the “hub” should be able to charge fees and so recover its full operational costs.

There was not complete agreement on the principle that the “hub” should act as the verifier, some preferring members to act on behalf, or through, local authorities. 

Members supported the intention to have such a “hub” operational by 2020.

4. External wall cladding 

There was a discussion on the appropriate guidance on external wall cladding, particularly taking account of the recent changes in England. However, the members confirmed the recommendations made in the report published in June.

Options for cladding systems in high rise buildings

It was agreed that the Technical Handbooks should be revised to restrict the components of external wall cladding systems (including any insulation material exposed within the cavity) on all high rise buildings with a storey over 11 m above ground level (both domestic and non-domestic) to materials achieving an A1 or A2 classification. The Technical Handbooks should also retain the option for external wall cladding systems to showing compliance through use of BS 8414 and BR 135 accompanied by the requisite professional judgement.

As this guidance related only to the components of external cladding systems (including any insulation material exposed within the cavity), careful drafting was considered to be necessary so as not to unintentionally discourage the use of external wall materials, components and structures which were not part of cladding systems and remained acceptable even though they did not achieve this standard. 

It was noted that supplementary information on elements within external wall cladding systems that may be exempted from categorisation is also likely to be required to support correct implementation of the amended guidance.

It was also stressed that, as with any fire test, the BS 8414 and BR 135 was only an indicator of performance and required understanding and interpretation by competent professionals. The use of BS 9414 (extended field of application of BS 8414 / BR 135 test reports) should also be covered if this has been completed in time.

Options for cladding systems in entertainment and assembly buildings

It was agreed that this same guidance should apply to external wall cladding on new entertainment and assembly buildings regardless of storey height. However, an exception should be made for smaller buildings with a total floor area over all floors of less than 500 m2, examples such as a village hall.

Options for claddings systems in residential care and hospital buildings

It was agreed that this same guidance should apply to external wall cladding on new multi-storey residential care and hospital buildings regardless of storey height. However, an exception should be made for buildings with a total floor area over all floors of less than 200 m2, which equates to the size noted in the Technical Handbook for a large house.

5. Escape 

Two stairways in high rise domestic buildings

At the last Review Panel meeting, there had been no consensus on the necessity of requiring two stairways in high rise domestic buildings with a storey at a height of over 18m. When this was put to public consultation a little over half of the respondents supported two stairways, and some had urged a lower trigger height of 11m. However, others argued that there was insufficient evidence and urged research on the cost-benefit basis of such a change.  

All did agree that the strategy of “defend in place / stay put” should be the first option and that in virtually every case this would be sufficient. The disagreement centred on the need for additional options (further redundancy) in the case of this strategy failing. It was noted that although virtually all flat fires are extinguished within the flat of origin, there have been at least two Scottish tower blocks which have had to be fully evacuated due to flame spread on the outside of the building, fortunately both fires occurred during daylight when the blocks were not fully occupied.

It was agreed that the trigger height should not be lower than 18m, as below this height there was greater opportunity for fire service assisted external rescue.

There was also acknowledgement that only a small number of domestic buildings with a storey at a height of over 18m are built each year in Scotland. 

It was also agreed that existing high rise domestic buildings with a storey at a height of over 18m should not be considered unsafe, provided that all the fire safety features required for “defend in place/stay put” were fully functioning (e.g. compartmentation, detection, sprinklers). As such, it was not appropriate to require such stairways to be retrospectively added to such buildings, as investment in alternative safety strategies might be more beneficial. There was some concern expressed that residents in existing blocks over this height may feel unsafe should they learn that similar new blocks are to have two stairways. The panel were made aware of the series of visits by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to high rise flats in last eighteen months and were advised by residents they felt safe in their homes.

The majority view of the panel was that a two stair approach could not be endorsed from a fire safety or operational firefighting perspective. The chair, expressed a view that provision of a second stair provided an important level of redundancy should “defend in place/stay put” fail.

Any decision on this topic would be for Scottish Ministers to take subject to the usual scrutiny and Regulatory Impact Assessment.

SFRS activated evacuation sounders

The recommendation from the Review Panel for the installation SFRS activated evacuation sounders in each flat of high rise domestic buildings with a storey over 18m above ground to provide for floor by floor evacuation, or evacuation of the entire building, was supported by almost all respondents to the consultation. The Review Panel discussed and did not identify any concerns over implementation of this measure. 

It is understood that once Scotland has decided it will require this then the British Standards Institute would be prepared to produce a standard rapidly. In the interim, more detailed guidance would need to be provided than is normally the case. It is understood that a standard for this already exists in Australia, which might be a valuable source.

6. Automatic fire safety suppression systems

An update was provided on the Government’s taking over of the Member’s Bill on domestic sprinklers. 

While it was clear that issues of the appropriate legislative method of introduction and the full scope of the requirements were still under consideration, it was agreed that Scotland should learn from the Welsh experience of a recent mandatory requirement for automatic fire suppression systems in domestic buildings, especially in terms of water supply and system specification.

It was agreed that there should be a requirement for automatic fire suppression systems in domestic-scale buildings used for “care” 24/7 and multiple household dwellings with 10 or more residents, however it was recognised that the use of ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation’ as a term to describe such premises might not have been appropriate.

In discussion on the need for automatic fire suppression systems in flats, it was considered that this might not be required in two storey buildings, containing only flats entered directly from the ground level or by external stairways to a first floor (so called “cottage flats”).

It had been previously agreed that single detached dwellings should not be included.

7. Final thoughts and next steps 

It was agreed that draft notes of this meeting will be circulated for comment as before, and once agreed put into the public domain. This will probably mark the end of the work of the Review Panel and it will be for Scottish Ministers and officials to produce the precise text of the revised guidance, which it is understood will come into effect in 2019.

There was agreement among panel members that there was a continuing need for some form on-going independent mechanism to provide both assistance and external assurance on the fire safety aspects of the building standards and that this recommendation would be put to Scottish Ministers.

The chair expressed his deep appreciation for the willingness of members, both in the UK and abroad, to devote their time and expertise to this Review Panel over the last 15 months, especially as many members had numerous professional and technical responsibilities. He was grateful for the positive and constructive atmosphere of these meetings and willingness of all members to seek consensus while respecting individual views and expertise.