Publication - minutes

Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel minutes: October 2017

Published: 24 Jan 2018
Date of meeting: 27 Oct 2017
Date of next meeting: 17 Jan 2018
Location: Double Tree by Hilton, Edinburgh Airport
Minutes of the meeting of the Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel that took place on 27 October 2017.
Published:
24 Jan 2018
Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel minutes: October 2017

Attendees and apologies

Present

  • Dr Paul Stollard, Chair

Members present

  • Sam Allwinkle, Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists
  • Luke Bisby, Edinburgh University
  • Colin Blick, Welsh Government
  • Damien Fairley, Northern Ireland Building Regulations
  • Stephen Good, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre
  • Alan McAulay, Local Authority Building Standards Scotland
  • Keith McGillivray, British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association
  • Dave Latto, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
  • Debbie Smith, BRE Global
  • Colin Todd, CS Todd Associates Ltd.
  • Mike Wood, Fire Sector Federation

Scottish Government

  • Clyde Ashby
  • Jonathan Astwood
  • Bill Dodds
  • Morven Doyle
  • Colin Hird
  • John MacGregor
  • Jessica McPherson
  • Linda White

Items and actions

1. Welcome, introductions and apologies

The Chair welcomed members of the review panel to the first meeting.Apologies were received and round table introductions made.

Apologies

  • Brian Martin, Department of Communities and Local Government
  • Stewart Dalgarno, Construction Scotland

Remit

The remit was discussed and accepted, this is:

1. To review standards in light of evidence from Grenfell Tower, 2. To comment on appropriateness and relevance of the current standards and guidance 3. To consider the relevant of British Standard and European tests. 4. To provide an opinion of whether any changes are necessary. 5. To keep this under review, as further evidence emerges.

Objective

The objective was agreed, this is: “to recommend what changes might be necessary”.

Procedures

The role of the international sub-group was explained. The first meeting of this will occur in mid-November. Future meetings may be joint or conducted separately, but information will be exchanged between the groups.

The linkage with the Compliance and Enforcement Panel, being chaired by John Cole, was explained.

There was recognition that the panel’s timetable may change as evidence emerges from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in England.

There was a discussion on confidentiality and it was agreed that notes would be taken of the meeting and these would be made public once agreed by all members. However these would try to present the collective views and the consensus which the panel could achieve. Views and opinions would not be attributed to individual members.

2. Wider context of work following Grenfell Tower fire

An update on the wider context of work following the Grenfell Tower fire was provided for:

  • Scotland (Jessica McPherson)
  • England (in the absence of UK Government) was given by Bill Dodds (Head of Building Standards Division who attended the Building Regulations Advisory Committee the previous week
  • Wales (Colin Blick), and
  • Northern Ireland (Damien Fairley)

3. Think pieces

3.1: Academia

  • Scotland should consider removing the legacy British Standards as regards routes to compliance for external cladding materials;
  • Scotland should consider removing the “risk” classification system, as this implies that the materials have some inherent risk category. A better terminology would be “hazard” class – or perhaps simply the use of the BS EN 13501 Classifications (i.e. Euroclasses), or perhaps just a letter or number nomenclature.
  • Where the existing requirement is for a Class B material (“Low risk”), Scotland should consider changing this to become Class A1 or A2 material (at least for cladding materials).
  • There was a general feeling that the guidance was extremely complex, and that it would be better to simplify the approach.

3.2: Fire consultancy / practitioner

  • Designers can choose between British Standard fire tests or harmonised European fire tests which can give different results.
  • Terminology welcomed for short, medium and long fire resistance duration, but would welcome some changes to terminology such as protected zones.
  • Sprinklers in sheltered housing complexes welcomed, but need to consider wider context of other forms of special housing with vulnerable occupants.
  • Emergency / escape lighting in common areas in flats should be reviewed.
  • Guidance on junctions between walls / floors and external wall cladding systems requires clarification, additional drawings might be helpful.
  • Question raised about application of new standards and guidance to existing buildings and powers to local authorities to require existing buildings to conform to new building standards.

3.3: Fire Test Scientist

  • Historical reference provided to fire tests in the UK with reference to fire resistance, surface spread of flame, roof tests, external cladding systems and the introduction of Harmonised European fire Tests.
  • Overview of current small scale, intermediate scale and full scale fire tests provided.
  • External fire spread particularly for high rise buildings above 18 m is a recognised issue and BS 8414-1 (masonry external wall) was published in 2002 and BS 8414-2 (steel frame) published in 2005
  • Small scale fire tests and European Harmonised Single Burning Item (SBI) test does not adequately represent the hazard exposed by external fire spread.
  • European Commission tendered for European approach to assess the fire performance of facades in Summer 2016. Work due to be completed end of 2017.
  • Drivers for innovation including fuel poverty, climate change targets and energy efficiency should not be assessed in isolation and a more holistic and collaborative approach is required to ensure buildings are safe in the case of fire and energy efficiency.
  • Difficult to keep pace with innovative products and provide database of information on research to inform decisions.
  • Cavity barriers critical as shown by full scale fire tests, but no industry standard to assess performance of cavity barriers and use of small scale or ad hoc fire tests may not be appropriate.

3.4: Verifier

  • Verification role critical in transposing policy outcomes into practice and to ensure more compliant buildings.
  • Verifier role generally welcomed by architects as independent third party checkers of their designs and hence provides additional protection in the public interest.
  • Product substitution is a common issue for verifiers and with those in procurement when specifying standards.
  • Major compliance problem which is recognised and needs to be communicated to that work stream.
  • Future simplicity of the guidance welcomed but recognise the complexity of fire to explain in plain English.
  • Standard 2.4 : Cavities aims to inhibit the spread of fire in cavities whether ventilated or unventilated but the use of the word ‘unseen’ in the Standard is not helpful and should be addressed.

3.5: Scottish Fire and Rescue Service

  • Consulted on a range of applications for building standards warrants. High rise domestic buildings is one of these. They are not always consulted on all the projects where they would wish to have input. For example, where innovative construction techniques are used.
  • Often questions in relation to what exactly is their role as consultee and needs to be clarified.
  • Product substitution can be a problem, but there is also “compliance substitution” by the use of reverse fire engineering (to save time, money or faults in construction). This needs to be considered in any future review of the Technical Handbooks or Procedural Guidance.
  • Fully support sprinklers, but they are not a panacea for a safe building.

Confirming the remit and objectives

There was detailed discussion on the precise areas to be considered. In particular:

4.1 Should standards other than 2.4.-2.9 and 2.15 be considered?

It was agreed that these should be the focus of the panel, however the following points were made:

  • The issue of communication should be kept under review. The argument being that as the “stay put” principle is being reviewed there might be a need to enable the fire service to alert people that it was necessary to evacuate. This could be through fire service switches at the ground floor, enabling sounders on different floors to encourage a phased evacuation.
  • The effectiveness of the escape requirements may be dependent upon the fire resistance of certain building elements and this would have to be considered.
  • There was also recognition that if the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry raised other issues (e.g. access and facilities for the fire service) these should also be included.

4.2 Should building use types other than residential and domestic be considered?

It was agreed that these should be the focus of the panel; however it was felt essential that the correct definitions of residential and domestic were used throughout Scotland. This was felt to be a particular problem in respect to university accommodation. If the adequacy of BS or European fire tests were being considered as part of the review, it was inevitable that other buildings types and low rise buildings would be considered.

4.3 Was the current definition of high rise (over 18m) appropriate?

It was recognised that this was a historic figure, but that it was widely used and well understood. However it is important that this is fully harmonised with heights used in the fire service, and kept under review during the work of the panel.

4.4 Existing buildings.

There was detailed discussion of the role of the Building Regulations in new buildings, new building work, refurbishments at the owners’ initiative and changes made as a result of other legislative or licensing requirements. It was recognised that although the primary purpose of the Building Standards Regulations and the Technical Handbooks was in new buildings and new building work, it was important that they should also be the principal source of technical information and standards for other fire safety legislation and licensing requirements. Therefore the recommendations of the panel would be influential for existing as well as new buildings and requires careful consideration.

4.5 Functional, performance and prescriptive standards.

The appropriateness of the current split between functional regulations and performance and prescriptive guidance with then Technical Handbooks was discussed. It was agreed:

  • that the term “inhibited” in regulations 2.4-2.8 was not perfect but accurately described the fire and smoke spread problem. If a better phrase could be found it would be considered.
  • that the wording of regulation 2.9 was sound, and
  • that the wording in 2.15 was prescriptive and would need to simply state where automatic auto-suppression systems were required although consider splitting standard 2.15 to reflect life safety and property protection aims of the standard.

5. Standard 2.15 Sprinklers

There was a discussion about the role of sprinklers and a number of points were made.

  • Can be a very good solution in certain social housing, where problems cannot be resolved by education.
  • There is importance of explaining the difference between life safety and property protection functions
  • The acceptance, that although it is rare, sprinklers are not always effective, either because of mechanical failure, the fire is shielded from the water or the temperature of the fire is not hot enough to operate the sprinkler system .
  • The experience of the Welsh Government in introducing sprinklers into their building regulations over the last few years had to be considered.
  • If pumps are needed, it was suggested that they will require a secondary power supply, to cover for power failures.
  • In university accommodation, the recommendation from the 2015 research commissioned by the Building Standards Division was to implement in all halls of residence not just those with a storey height above 18m.
  • Potential water supply problems.
  • In Wales, there are three colleges doing sprinkler installation courses so they support third party accreditation. Installers must be competent and accredited. Experience in Wales is that industry has taken it seriously.
  • Need to fully understand what sprinklers will achieve, is it to protect the lives of those in the area of fire origin; or out with the area of fire origin; or to prevent a total catastrophe?
  • There is currently a Members Bill in the Scottish Parliament to extend sprinklers to new build social housing, new build student flats and all new build flatted property between 1 and 6 storeys high.
  • Collaborative research has been commissioned by the Fire Industry Association, the BRE Trust, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to establish exactly why people die from fire in Scotland; it has a six months timescale expected Spring 2018.
  • The question was posed, if sprinklers are fitted, could anything be taken out of the standards was discussed ? It was generally felt that nothing could be removed in terms of life safety.
  • The question was posed, looking at existing building with problem cladding, to what extent can we consider sprinklers to be an alleviating issue ? It was generally felt that this was worth further investigation but unlikely to make a significant difference for external façade fires. An research project to produce inventory of fire safety in existing high rise domestic buildings in Scotland will help to inform future fire safety policy and advice to Scottish Ministers.

6. Standard 2. 9 Means of Escape

The general consensus was that, although a very complex area, the current guidance remains relatively fit for purpose. However the following points were made.

  • Some felt there was an inconsistency in that in domestic high rise a single stair and no common alarm might be acceptable, while in residential (hotels, hospitals) “higher” standards were required. However it was noted that in domestic buildings the evacuation policy is “stay put”, while in residential a more sophisticated evacuation is planned, justifying this apparent inconsistency.
  • Level of safety expected after the Grenfell Tower fire is going to be higher, a significant change in public perception.
  • Methods of protection to single stair, is there evidence that the single stair is sufficiently protected?
  • Need to consider how technical handbooks are written, needs to be in plain English whilst recognising technical complexity.

7. Standards 2.4 - 2.8 Cladding, Materials and Testing

This was considered to be the most complex issue for the panel and the following points were made.

  • Small scale fire tests and European Harmonised Single Burning Item (SBI) test does not adequately represent the hazard exposed by external fire spread.
  • European Commission tendered for European approach to assess the fire performance of facades in Summer 2016. Work due to be completed end of 2017.
  • Drivers for innovation including fuel poverty, climate change targets and energy efficiency should not be assessed in isolation and a more holistic and collaborative approach is required to ensure buildings are safe in the case of fire and energy efficiency.
  • There may be a need to revise regulation 2.4 to change “unseen spread of fire and smoke” to “spread of fire” to remove some rather pedantic queries.
  • Table 2.7 in Technical Handbook seems to not be granular enough. Also the term ‘low risk’ may need to be reviewed.
  • Consider removing legacy British Standards and use only European tests. This would help with clarification. However if this was extended to resistance to fire then there might be major problems for the fire protection industry.
  • Remove terminology around ‘risk’ and use ‘hazard classification’. (Terminology is correct for “resistance to fire”.) Suggested words were “hazard classification”. If you remove British Standards, no need for any word, can just use the European tests but need to check against other standards for consistency.
  • Increase the requirement to A1 A2, rather than B (referring to table in annex E in Non-Domestic Technical Handbook).

8. Methods of working, ways forward.

It was agreed that:

  • the next two meetings would be set by the Doodle Poll currently being circulated,
  • that this was a convenient venue for almost all those attending and could be used again, and
  • it was not essential that the international sub-group met at the same time as the UK group.

Everyone was thanked for their time, commitment and encouragement.

[Post meeting note: The dates of the 2nd and 3rd review panel meetings has been set for 17 January 2018 and 11 April 2018.]

Contact

Email: BFSResponse@gov.scot

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG