This research was commissioned by the Building Standards Division (BSD) of the Scottish Government in order to inform the potential creation of a certification scheme for fire safety measures in accordance with Section 7(1) or 7(2) of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003. These sections make provision for Scottish Ministers to appoint persons as certifiers, or approved certification schemes (for a fixed period).
In Scotland, certification operates under The Building (Scotland) Act 2003. It allows suitably qualified and experienced building professionals to act as Approved Certifiers of Design or Approved Certifiers of Construction. They are employed by an Approved Body and take responsibility for ensuring that specified elements of the design or construction work on the project comply with building regulations in force at that time.
Certification within the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 was introduced with the intention of:
- encouraging high professional standards within the construction sector;
- providing reassurance to the public using the certification service, and
- verifiers accepting certificates. In other words, Approved Certifiers carry out the checks to show that the work complies with the building standards leaving Local Authority verifiers able to accept the certificate in lieu of undertaking checks themselves (if the customer has chosen to follow this route).
To date there are four certification schemes approved. There are two schemes in existence for Design (Building Structure and Energy) and two for Construction (Drainage, Heating and Plumbing as well as Electrical Installations).
Certification sits alongside the role of the Local Authority as “verifier” for building warrant and completion certificate processes and only applies to works that are subject to the building warrant process.
Certification provides confirmation that the work carried out meets the applicable standards and requires that a suitably qualified and experienced building professional or tradesperson are responsible for ensuring that specified elements of the design or construction works comply with the building regulations.
If an Approved Certifier is used, a check of this element of the project will not be required by the verifier (Local Authority). Certification currently is an optional service albeit customers are strongly advised or recommended to use the services of an Approved Certifier. This service is not mandatory for building owners, the use of certification is, therefore, currently optional.
The Scottish Government Building Standards Division manages the Certification Register, which is used by clients and Local Authorities. It is the only means to source Approved Certifiers and Approved Bodies. The latter is a firm, public body, or other organisation that is a member of the scheme, employing at least one Approved Certifier and which adopts suitable professional practices including procedures to check compliance with the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004.
At present in Scotland, although fire safety installations are most certainly important to building design and construction, such installations are not covered by a dedicated certification scheme.
‘Fire safety measures’ (the design, installation and use of active and passive fire protection systems) plays a major role in preventing fires from spreading. The passive systems (walls, floors, doors, structural frames, beams, columns etc.) do this by creating contained fire-resistant compartments within buildings. Service penetrations and gaps in the construction are normally fire-stopped using approved fire resisting materials or intumescent type products that are designed to expand and seal the gap or protect the structural frame. Active fire protection measures – such as fire detection and alarm systems provide early warning of fire to the building occupants. Extinguishers, sprinkler systems designed to fight fires, can be designed into buildings or installed as additional security after construction. Sprinkler systems can be for life safety or property protection.
The term ‘fire-stopping’ is used throughout the report for ease. While the term is used and well known throughout the industry, it should be understood that fire-stopping refers to active and passive fire protection systems (as explained above). This was also clarified in discussions with the research participants.
Fire is an ever-present danger in any building. Faulty electrics, faulty appliances, misused heating appliances, smoking-related accidents – all these and more can create life-threatening incidents. While excellence in design can mitigate the risks to some extent, the ongoing possibility of mechanical, electrical or human failure is always present. They constitute a danger which cannot ever be totally eradicated, a fact that has been underlined by some tragic events over the past few years which have brought the issue of active and passive fire safety measures into much greater focus. For example, inadequate and non-compliant fire safety measures played a key role in the Grenfell Tower tragedy (14th June 2017).
Building failures in Scotland and England in recent years (for example, Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh, the DG One Complex in Dumfries and Galloway, and the Grenfell Tower fire in London) have revealed significant deficiencies in building standards and a lack of compliance with building and fire safety regulations. Further details of these are provided in Appendix 1.
The role of certification has been recognised by a Ministerial Working Group Review Panel as being pivotal for the future strategy on improving building standards. The Review Panel on Building and Fire Safety was set up following these high-profile building failures, including Grenfell Tower and the wall collapse at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh.
The panel was convened to consider the issues of compliance and enforcement within the building standards process. The panel, chaired by Professor John Cole, consisting of industry and public sector representatives, made a series of recommendations including the certification of fire-stopping.
Subsequently a second review panel was also convened to focus specifically on fire issues. This panel identified that a better mechanism is required for the verification of fire safety engineering solutions for complex buildings.
A national ‘hub’ to verify applications for complex buildings has been suggested. This is being looked at under a separate piece of work commissioned by the Scottish Government under the Delivery Model work stream.
The Building Standards Futures Board was created to tackle issues of compliance and enforcement within building standards in order to improve the overall service and its work comprises seven key work streams.
As the role of certification (i.e. that ultimate assurance of compliance) is regarded as being pivotal to improving building standards in Scotland; a ‘Certification Strategy’ is one of the Board’s key work streams.
Pye Tait Consulting was subsequently commissioned by the Building Standards Division to research and advise upon the optimum ways in which the existing systems for active and passive fire measures might be improved through the introduction of a certification scheme.
1.3 Project Aims and objectives
The formal aim of the research is to take forward this proposal from the final report from the Review Panel on Building Standards Compliance and Enforcement and identify if there is a demand for a certification scheme for fire-stopping within the current Scottish building warrant process.
The research is designed to consider whether or not a scheme for active and passive fire safety measures could be developed under section 7(2) of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003.
Building Standards Division required that the work:
- Establish if there is an appetite within the construction sector to develop and deliver a certification scheme or service for active and passive fire measures and the installation of fire safety measures (see section 3.1);
- Establish the technical scope of such a scheme (see section 3.4);
- If there is a demand for a certification scheme, consider the flexibility to certify some or all of the measures defined within the technical scope of the certification scheme (see section 3.5);
- Identify if the technical skills and capacity exist within the industry upon which a certification scheme for fire safety measures could be developed (see section 3.2 and 3.5) and identify training for fire safety installers (see section 2.6.1 and Appendix 5);
- Identify the benefits of a certification service including the impact in insurance premiums which were set out in the ‘Phase 2’ section of the original project brief (see section 3.7).
1.4 Research Approach
Active and passive fire safety measures are relatively well-understood although, as with all other such topics, the science, technologies and techniques are constantly being improved and new approaches developed.
With the approval of BSD, we segmented the research into five distinct and iterative phases, to enable the provision of responses to the research questions listed above.
The objective was to build a firm and mutually supportive body of understanding and knowledge using, where feasible, expert technical input prior to considering ways forward.
These research phases are as follows:
Literature review and desk-based research
Stakeholder workshop and stakeholder supplementary interviews (15 total participants)
Depth interviews with 8 local authority verifiers (2 city-based, 3 urban, 3 rural)
Depth interviews with 15 contractors working in relation to fire safety
Depth interviews with 5 insurance/brokers
The findings from the participants to the research are presented in section 3 under agreed headings.