Centralized hub for verification of complex fire engineered solutions in Scotland: feasibility study

Independent opinion on the need, appropriateness, potential structure and potential operations of a central hub for assisting in the verification of complex fire engineered designs.

8 Conclusions and Recommendations

8.1 Summary 

8.1.1 This project explored the need, appropriateness, potential structure and potential operations of a central hub for assisting in the verification of complex fire engineered designs. As part of this effort, input was obtained from a wide range of stakeholder groups on the following topics: 

  • The role of a central review hub in relation to responsibilities and authority of LAVs, SFRS and BSD with respect to fire engineered designs
  • The form (or forms) of the hub that may be suitable for Scotland, given the regulatory system and the resources and expertise within the system
  • The number and representative make-up (e.g., practicing fire engineer, LAVs, SFRS fire engineer, academic, etc.) of persons that might be appropriate for serving in a review capacity as part of the hub
  • The qualifications and experience of the persons who might serve as part of review panels for the hub
  • The limits and conditions of service as part of the hub, including potential conflicts of interest (private and governmental)
  • The triggers for determining when a project could or should be sent to the hub for verification (e.g., complex and ‘high-risk’ buildings, significant variations from Section 2: Fire, Technical Handbooks, etc.), what documentation would be required, from whom, and within what time constraints
  • The time limits around the activities of the hub in relation to a specific project (i.e., timelines for undertaking review and reporting back), and
  • How such a hub might be funded (i.e., different mechanisms). 

8.1.2 Research into how other jurisdictions undertake verification (review and approval) was conducted as well, and included private certification, peer review, multi-actor approval process, and multi-pathway review processes.

8.2 Conclusions

8.2.1 It is the opinion of the author that the verification system in Scotland largely operates well, and that the fundamental issue is lack of resources. A central hub for review is recommended as the means to provide needed resources in the short term. 

8.2.2 It is the opinion of the author that Scotland is not yet ready for self-certification, although this might be a reasonable long-term target.

8.2.3 It is the opinion of the author that private certification of fire engineered designs may not be the best option for Scotland at this time.

8.2.4 It is the opinion of the author that given the resource limitations around fire engineers in Scotland, and limited resources for LAVs and the SFRS, it does not seem practicable to move towards a multi-actor verification system at this time, at least in the breadth of actors involved in other countries. 

8.2.5 It is the opinion of the author that an adequately regulated and managed peer-review system can be beneficial to Scotland. 

8.2.6 It is the opinion of the author that a multiple verification approach, based on level / complexity of design, could be beneficial for Scotland, in that a majority of designs are ‘prescriptive’ (Technical Handbook compliant), with the next greatest number ‘minor’ deviations, and the smallest number the ‘full’ fire engineered designs. 

8.2.7 It is the opinion of the author that Scotland should retain the Ministerial Views process, and the Ministerial Relaxation process, as currently exists. The ability to have an appeals mechanism, prior to entering the judiciary system, provides more opportunity for identifying and resolving issues within the sector.

8.2.8 Considering the various options explored as part of this research, and considering the feedback from stakeholders on the concept of a central ‘hub’ for review of fire engineered designs, it is the opinion of the author that for Scotland, a system that contains aspects of maintaining the current government verification authority (LAV), with peer-review if needed (but largely circumvented by implementation of a ‘central review hub’ for fire engineered designs, along the lines of the Japanese system), would seem to fit best the verification needs and resource constraints within Scotland.

8.2.9 It is the opinion of the author that the most feasible construct for such a hub would be an entity managed by LABSS, with a fulltime ‘gatekeeper’ (coordinator) to make initial decisions on whether a design should be reviewed by the hub, and supported by a panel of four additional persons, with access to a range of subject matter experts. The gatekeeper and panellists would be as follows. The base number may change depending on exactly how the SFRS FEG would interface with the hub. At present, the suggested disciplines are as follows:

  • Gatekeeper (coordinator), who has appropriate knowledge, expertise and experience with fire engineering, verification, building regulations, and if possible, building design
  • Verifier (fire experience, as well as more broadly)
  • Fire Engineer (design experience)
  • Architect / Architectural Technologist
  • SFRS FEG member The primary attraction of this construct would be keeping the hub within the existing verification process, operating as an extension of the LAVs. In this construct, there would be a fulltime gatekeeper (coordinator) and four panel members, contracted on a rotating basis (2- or 3-year terms), with a limited expectation of workload (perhaps 2-4 days per month). There is also a need for a large pool of subject matter experts who would be called upon when needed. For this option to work, there would need to be agreement by LABSS and the LAVs that the hub is staffed with a range of experts, as discussed above, and is not fully staffed by LAV personnel. It is assumed that this construct would not necessitate changes to legislation. The costs of one fulltime staff (not including administrative support), using ‘as needed’ contracts for panellists and subjective material experts, should be relatively cost-effective. 

8.2.10 With regard to decision-making, it is the opinion of the author that the hub should provide input to the LAVs, and that the LAVs retain decision-making authority as currently exists. 

8.2.11 It is the opinion of the author that Scotland should retain the Ministerial Views process, and the Ministerial Relaxation process, as currently exists. The ability to have an appeals mechanism, prior to entering the judiciary system, provides more opportunity for identifying and resolving issues within the sector.

8.2.12 The basic scope of the hub is to provide an expert review of any fire engineered design submitted to it, in the context of the overall building design and expected operation, to determine if:

  • The fire engineered design adequately considers and addresses the building systems and features with which it interacts with regard to compliance with the relevant fire safety Standards, without negatively impacting any other Standards which are applicable to the building design, or without such other Standards impacting on the level of fire safety delivered.
  • The fire engineered design has adequately characterised and assessed the fire scenarios, design basis fires and conditions of concern given the use of the building, the expected fuel loads, compartment configurations, paths of available egress, the associated vulnerabilities / life safety parameters of occupants, and related issues in meeting the life safety Standard; and, as deemed appropriate, the sustainability of the building against fire threats in meeting the sustainability Standard.  
  • The fire engineered design has been adequately undertaken, from a technical perspective, including use of appropriately justified data, statistics, analytical methods, and computational methods, with appropriate consideration of sources of uncertainty and variability across all aspects (i.e., data, methods, post-occupancy conditions, etc.). 
  • Where a ‘comparative’ approach has been taken, the fire engineered design has been adequately justified the ‘base case’ for comparison.
  • Where new or innovative materials, components and systems are used, that performance (test) data are appropriate, and/or analytical approach taken to demonstrate fitness for purpose of the materials, components and systems are adequately justified.

8.2.13 Triggers for review by the hub are difficult to precisely quantify at this time, as discussed above. However, there should be a few fundamental tenets:

  • Any fire engineered design for which the responsible person within the LAV believes the scope of the design is outside of the area of expertise of the person or persons within the LAV charged with verifying the design.
  • Any fire engineered design for a building deemed to be of ‘high-risk’, such as in Risk Category 3 or 4, as described in Section 4. Note: a decision is needed on whether Scotland wants to move in this direction (i.e., risk categories), and if so, work is needed within Scotland to identify specific risk parameters that are necessary so as to allocate specific building uses / occupancies and/or specific building features (e.g., height) to the associate risk category.
  • Buildings, and building designs, for which the complexity as described in Section 4 is such that the LAV requests assistance in review. This could be the complexity of building (e.g., mixed occupancy with multiple property owners, etc.), complexity of systems (e.g., complex smoke and heat venting, or complex façade system of double-skin design and louvres for control of airflow, etc.), or sophistication of tools of analysis (e.g., CFD software, FEA software, evacuation software, etc).
  • Buildings, and building designs, for which innovative materials, components, or systems, or innovative methods of construction, are used and the LAV requests assistance in review.  This could include new façade materials and systems, new CLT systems, and more.
  • In addition, it is suggested that there should be a pathway by which a fire engineer, or a building developer / owner, can request review by the hub. The decision should be made along with the LAV, but there should not be barriers to requesting a review if the building owner / developer or their fire engineer requests such.

8.2.14 It is the opinion of the author that the LAVs consider the opinion of the hub as having at least the weight of a Ministerial View. While not a View, any opinion should be the considered recommendation of well-respected leaders of a cross-section of building-related disciplines, including fire engineering. If the hub is set up and resourced appropriately, there should be no technical reason by which to overturn the opinion of the hub.

8.2.15 Ultimately, decisions on funding will be developed within Scotland by the relevant stakeholders. However, it seems a multi-layer funding model could work, including:

  • Government, which might provide seed funding, perhaps physical office space and equipment, computer equipment and software resources, and perhaps administrative support.
  • Local authorities, which could perhaps use levies on the warrant process, perhaps specifically for designs designated to go to the hub, to support hub panellists. This could work if the local authorities assure such funds go only to support the hub.
  • Developers and owners could pay a specific fee, especially if they request directly that the hub carry out the review for their project. Since the LAV ultimately makes the decision on acceptability, there should not be a ‘bribe’ concern.

8.2.16 The costs to operate the hub will greatly depend on agreed structure. Assuming for now that the approach as discussed above is adopted, requirements would include:

  • One fulltime, expert as gatekeeper / coordinator of the hub
  • Administrative support
  • Funds for four panellists, nominally 24-48 days per year, plus expenses
  • Physical meeting space and computers (perhaps)
  • Funds for subject matter experts, perhaps 2-4 days per project (assuming perhaps 2-4 projects per year needing specific expertise)

8.2.17 It is suggested that the gatekeeper (coordinator) should be able to make a determination on whether a design should be reviewed by the hub within 2 business days. Assuming the hub panellists meet monthly, small projects might be completed within one month from submittal, and larger projects within 2-3 months, depending on complexity. 

  • Should frequency of meetings reduce, time scales might reduce as well. However, it should not be expected that any project be reviewed in less than 2 weeks. 
  • In some cases, projects will have many phases over months (or years), so response time would be as per above based on phase. 

8.2.18 It is the opinion of the author that the hub be established for an initial term of five years, with the possibility of extension, if needed, in five-year increments.

8.2.19 To assess how the hub is performing, relative to its charge, it is suggested that annual audits be conducted, looking at such factors as number of designs reviewed, acceptance by LAVs, customer satisfaction, and the like. A detailed review might be conducted every 2 years, and the 4th-year review would include consideration of the continuation of the hub for an additional five years.

8.3 Recommendations

8.3.1 It is recommended that the Scottish government consult with stakeholders on the formation of a hub as outlined in this report.

8.3.2 It is recommended that the Scottish government initiate an effort to develop a system of ‘risk categories’ for buildings in Scotland, so as to provide consistency in understanding and application amongst all stakeholders, including the public. Ultimately, any approach to defining ‘high risk’ buildings in Scotland should begin with a discussion on defining and characterizing risk, and then moving on to categorizing or quantifying risk, as befits the selected model. Consideration of existing classification(s) of risk in the Scottish system would be a likely basis of such an effort (e.g., looking to ‘places of special risk’ and buildings that ‘pose a particular risk’ as discussed in the Technical Handbooks).

8.3.3 It is recommended that the Scottish Government initiate a project to develop guidelines on defining, recognizing and understanding complexity in buildings as related to fire engineering designs. Complexity in the built environment has many facets, and it is difficult to define it simply. It is deemed better to describe what makes the system complex, provide questions to explore relative to complexity, and to train actors to understand and address complexity as part of design and reporting. 

8.3.4 It is recommended that as part of the hub, and as part of addressing ‘high-risk’ and ‘complex’ buildings, and as part of addressing the current situation with respect to qualifications and competency across the sector, that the Scottish Government consider development of a ‘fire engineering verification method’ to assist engineers and verifiers with ‘simple’ deviations from the Technical Handbooks.


Email: sarah.waugh@gov.scot

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