Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel minutes: January 2018
Minutes of the meeting of the Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel that took place on 17 January 2018.
Attendees and apologies
- Dr Paul Stollard, Chair
- Prof Sam Allwinkle, Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists
- Prof Luke Bisby, Edinburgh University
- Colin Blick, Welsh Government
- Damien Fairley, Northern Ireland Building Regulations
- Stewart Dalgarno, Construction Scotland
- Keith McGillivray, British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association
- Dave Latto, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
- Dr Debbie Smith, BRE Global
- Colin Todd, CS Todd Associates Ltd.
- Mike Wood, Fire Sector Federation
- Colin Hird
- Clyde Ashby
- Jonathan Astwood
- Bill Dodds
Items and actions
1. Welcome, introductions and apologies
The Chair welcomed members of the review panel to the second meeting.
- Brian Martin, Department of Communities and Local Government
- Stephen Good, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre
- Alan McAulay, Local Authority Building Standards Scotland
Stewart Dalgarno from Construction Scotland introduced himself to the group.
Recent developments and considerations of the papers of this meeting
- The relationship with the international sub-group was explained, discussed and agreed.
- One member requested more detail on the fire tests used by member states of the Inter-jurisdictional Regulatory Collaborative Committee (IRCC) contained in Annex C to the introductory paper for this meeting
- The Interim Report from the Dame Judith Hackitt (DJH) review of Building Regulations in England was discussed and there was a report on the recent round table meetings with DJH in Wales.
- There was a brief update on the Compliance and Enforcement and Fire safety regime work streams also currently being undertaken and it was agreed that Review Panel members would receive the notes from these workstreams as they become available.
2. Conclusions of the first meeting
A brief summary of the consensus from the first meeting was agreed:
- The current structure of functional standards supported with performance based or prescriptive guidance in the Technical Handbooks works and should be retained. However there is a need to make some minor changes to the wording of individual functional standards to remove ambiguities and prevent deliberate evasion of the intention of the standards.
- More work is needed on the Technical Handbooks and there is a need to ensure they are clearer and understandable to the general public.
- In particular work is required on the three groups of standards already identified at our first meeting.
- Work on Cladding, Materials and Testing (Standards 2.4-2.8)
- Work on Means of Escape (Standard 2.9)
- Work on Sprinklers (Standard 2.15).
- The process for the verification of fire engineering solutions which do not follow the Technical Handbooks needs to be reviewed to ensure they are sufficiently robust.
- There needs to be a better understanding of how the Technical Handbooks might be used in existing buildings and the consequences of using them in this manner.
It was agreed to concentrate in this meeting on final three bullet points, and in particular on the identified standards.
3. Cladding, materials and testing (Standards 2.4 to 2.8)
There was a detailed discussion, in which:
- The group unanimously agreed that the fire tests used for fire spread on internal wall and ceiling linings should not be used for fire spread on or within external wall cladding systems.
- However the continued use of small scale fire tests for external wall cladding systems was discussed. Euro Class A1 and A2 could continue to be specified for external wall cladding systems in certain circumstances. (A1 is non-combustible and A2 is limited combustibility.)
- There was discussion around costs and the supply chain consequences of the increased use of full scale fire tests in accordance with BS 8414 (and BR 135).
- The proposed European Harmonised fire test for external wall cladding, currently being developed by the European Commission based on BS 8414 with a window blank (French test), was also discussed.
- It was agreed that further consideration should be given to possibly having mandatory rules (as opposed to guidance) for external wall cladding (i.e. Euro Class A1/A2) for high rise buildings or the use of BS 8414 (and BR 135).
- There was discussion on how those on site could be given assurance that the cladding system being installed did meet the required specification (markings, etc.) This should be linked to Compliance and Enforcement work stream.
4. Means of escape (Standard 2.9)
There was a detailed discussion, in which:
- There was agreement that the escape strategy being chosen (“total evacuation” or “defend in place”) should be made clear to all involved and that this should be set out within the Technical Handbooks. Such escape strategies should be clearly explained in the Technical Handbooks.
- Despite evidence from other countries around the world (see Annex C of the meeting papers) which supports two escape stairs above the height of external rescue equipment, there was agreement that the existing “defend in place” escape strategy should continue to be allowed in allowed in some building types.
- Some members preferred the term “stay put” to “defend in place”.
- It was agreed that the escape strategy must never rely on being “rescued” by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS)
- It was agreed that where “defend in place” was the chosen escape strategy, then the installation of a fire alarm system under the direct control of the SFRS should be considered. This should assist the incident commander if the fire develops so that “defend in place” was no longer a viable strategy and “total evacuation” became imperative. Such an alarm system should be controlled from ground level and permit floor by floor or total evacuation. It was recognised that this would be a very rare event as fire is almost always contained to the dwelling of fire origin and that the Grenfell Tower fire was a most unusual event.
- Whilst accepting the 18m height rule is arbitrary and linked to outdated fire and rescue equipment, it was agreed that this remained a useful figure and should continue to be used where appropriate.
- There was discussion as to the height above which it was necessary to require two escape stairs even when the strategy was “defend in place”. Some members thought this should be in all such buildings over 18m.
- There was also discussion on the possible need to increase the width required if there was only one escape stair, to permit fire fighters with breathing apparatus and evacuees to use the stair simultaneously.
- It was agreed that a “defend in place” strategy depended upon compartmentation, separation, fire doors, automatic fire detection and alarm systems, access and facilities for the fire service.
5. Sprinklers (Standard 2.15)
There was a lengthy discussion, in which :
- There was agreement that sprinklers were valuable in tackling fires in the initial stages and limiting the spread beyond the first materials ignited.
- There was also agreement that sprinklers should not normally be installed to compensate for the removal of other safety measures.
- There was disagreement as to the necessity of requiring the installation of sprinklers in all new build non-domestic high rise residential and non-residential buildings.
- There was agreement that the mandatory requirement to install sprinklers should be targeted to those buildings where they would be most beneficial. Trigger heights for any new requirement to install sprinklers versus economies of scale (number of units) were discussed and it was agreed that this requires further exploration.
- There was agreement that sprinklers should not be mandatory in new houses, which were single family dwellings.
- It was explained that the 2015 Optimal Economics research suggested a positive cost benefit analysis for flats, student accommodation and large HMOs (10 bed) provided the installation costs are at the lower end of the range.
Members were alerted to a new private members bill lodged with the Scottish Parliament by David Stewart MSP on 16 January 2018. The proposal is to require the mandatory installation of sprinklers in a new build social housing which doesn’t naturally fit into the building standards system. The consultation includes a question on the retrofitting of sprinklers in all existing high rise domestic buildings in Scotland. The consultation will close on 16 April 2018 and is available at http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/107479.aspx
6. Verification of fire engineering solutions
This issue was raised at the international sub-group meeting and, whilst it was acknowledged that this issue also concerned the Compliance and Enforcement Review Panel, the opinions of experts around the table was sought. In discussion:
- The general consensus was that construction industry preferred the prescriptive guidance in the Technical Handbooks and wanted less reliance on fire engineered solutions.
- There was some concern that the Technical Handbooks were being inappropriately used not as default guidance, but as a benchmark against which so-called fire engineering solutions were being inappropriately assessed.
- Reducing the scope of the Technical Handbooks was discussed (e.g. reducing the scope of the guidance from 60 m to a lower height, the annex on shopping centres). It was agreed that the Technical Handbooks should not attempt to be comprehensive and cover every building, however complex. At the same time there was a desire not to limit the scope of the Technical Handbooks so as to force designers to employ fire engineers when these were perhaps not necessary due to the relatively simple nature of the building.
- It was agreed that that consideration should be given to removing the option of pressurised escape stairs as there are questions over their reliability to keep smoke out of escape stairs and corridors. They would still remain possible as part of a properly designed fire engineering solution. Pressurisation as a means to secure safe escape routes was not widely supported by members of the International sub-group
- A suggestion was made to re-introduce guidance for dwellings with an individual storey > 200m2.
- Verification. The value of a centralised fire engineering “hub” or “clearing house” to assist in verification was discussed. Members could be drawn from statutory bodies or be privately contracted fire engineers. The role of the SFRS in such verification was discussed and it was acknowledged that there might be the possibility of a perceived conflict of interest with their consultation role that would need to be addressed.
- It was stressed that any third party verification should not disproportionally delay, add to the costs or complicate/delay the building warrant process.
- Certification. Moving the fire engineering community towards Building Standard Certification was considered to be a longer term strategy, which would be welcomed by the industry generally, but was considered to be at least five years away. There is also a potential issue with the critical mass of available fire engineers in Scotland in order to operate a successful and credible certification scheme applying only in this jurisdiction.
- It was reiterated that these issues had to be considered in conjunction with the Review Panel on Compliance and Enforcement.
7. Existing Buildings
The issue of the application of new building standards and guidance to existing buildings was discussed and it was noted that:
- Most member countries of the IRCC generally do not apply new standards or guidance retrospectively to existing buildings.
- It was agreed that for buildings in use the key issue should be not did it have a warrant at the time of construction, but is it safe in the use to which it is now being put.
- A fire risk assessment is required under Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and is considered to be sufficient to assess the risks in “relevant premises” which are predominantly non-domestic buildings. However domestic buildings are not relevant premises, unless the dwelling or part of the domestic building is a workplace.
- If there was a known problem which had a significant risk to the life safety of building occupants, current building standards could be applied retrospectively. If necessary, the mechanism for this would be for Scottish Ministers to use their powers under the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 and issue a Direction to a local authority or authorities to issue a Building Regulation Compliance Notice requiring the existing building(s) or building type to be brought up to current standards.
8. Final thoughts and plans for the third meeting
There was discussion as to whether the work of the Review Panel should now pause to await the interim report of the Grenfell Public Inquiry, which is not expected until the autumn of 2018. However it was agreed that it was important to make necessary technical changes as soon as feasible and therefore :
- The 3rd Review Panel meeting should be held as planned on 11 April 2018.
- The next meeting should work on changes to the Functional Standards and Technical Handbook guidance which might then go forward to public consultation in due course.
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback