Environment, Safety and Standards Regulation and Enforcement

Building and fire safety regulations “not fit for purpose”

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

A damning Government review carried out in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy has found current building and fire safety regulations are not fit for purpose.

DCLG has published the interim report of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt.

In her forward to the document Dame Judith said: “As the review has progressed, it has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.”

She added: “I have been shocked by some of the practices I have heard about and I am convinced of the need for a new intelligent system of regulation and enforcement for high-rise and complex buildings which will encourage everyone to do the right thing and will hold to account those who try to cut corners.”

The interim report provides a summary of what has been learned so far, the proposed direction of travel for the next phase of work and the rationale, as well as early actions which can be taken to support the future direction of travel.

Report Key Findings

The work of the review to date has found that the current regulatory system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings is not fit for purpose.

This applies throughout the life cycle of a building, both during construction and occupation, which the report says is a problem connected both to the culture of the construction industry and the effectiveness of the regulators.

It identifies the following as the reasons for this:

  • Current regulations and guidance are too complex and unclear.
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities is poor.
  • The means of assessing and ensuring the competency of key people throughout the system is inadequate.
  • Compliance, enforcement and sanctions processes are too weak.
  • The route for residents to escalate concerns is unclear and inadequate.
  • The system of product testing, marketing and quality assurance is not clear.

Direction of Travel

The Independent Review will now undertake its second phase of work and publish a final report in spring 2018. This will include targeted work in partnership with the sector and other stakeholders. This interim report sets the direction for change that will underpin that report and covers six broad areas.

Regulation and guidance:

  • The rules for ensuring high-rise and other complex buildings are built safe and remain safe should be more risk-based and proportionate. Those responsible for high-risk and complex buildings should be held to account to a higher degree.
  • There should be a shift away from government solely holding the burden for updating and maintaining guidance, towards greater responsibility for the sector to specify solutions which meet the government’s functional standards.
  • Regulations and guidance must be simplified and unambiguous.

Roles and responsibilities:

  • Primary responsibility for ensuring that buildings are fit for purpose must rest with those who commission, design and build the project. Responsibility and accountability must rest with clearly identifiable senior individuals and not be wholly dispersed through the supply chain.
  • Roles and responsibilities across the whole life cycle of a building must be clearer.

Competence:

  • There is a need to raise levels of competence and establish formal accreditation of those engaged in the fire prevention aspects of the design, construction, inspection and maintenance of high-rise residential and complex buildings

Process, compliance and enforcement:

  • There needs to be a golden thread for high rise residential and complex buildings so that the original design intent, and any subsequent changes or refurbishment, are recorded and properly reviewed, along with regular reviews of overall building integrity.
  • There is a need for stronger and more effective enforcement activity, backed up with sufficiently powerful sanctions for the few who do not follow the rules.

Residents’ voice and raising concerns:

  • Residents need to be reassured that an effective system is in place to maintain safety in their homes.
  • There must be a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ concerns to be addressed.

Quality assurance and products:

  • Products must be properly tested and certified and there is a need to ensure oversight of the quality of installation work.
  • Marketing of products must be clear and easy to interpret.

The report also highlight issues with the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS ) –  a risk-based evaluation tool to help local authorities identify and protect against potential risks and hazards to health and safety from any deficiencies identified in homes.

It said: “The HHSRS has advantages given that it can look in both individual flats and common parts.

“However, it is a primarily reactive system covering a large number of housing hazards, meaning that local authorities are not necessarily using the powers to proactively manage fire risks.

“The prioritisation of the 29 different factors is highly subjective. In addition, expertise on fire safety issues and the breadth of a complex fire management strategy is likely to be better understood, on average, within a fire and rescue service rather than an EHO team.

“There is no recognition in the current system of differing levels of competence required for increasing complexity of buildings and situations to be assessed.”

Fire safety is one of the top searches on the RLA website, with many landlords contacting the advice team in the wake of the devastating blaze at Grenfell Tower this summer.

In response to this the RLA has created new look and fully up-to-date fire safety pages, including videos and interactive resources to help landlords do everything possible to keep their tenants safe.

It has reassured members that many will not be affected by the Government’s response to Grenfell Tower with the ACM cladding however, it is supporting the Government in its efforts to improve fire safety.

The association has also updated its Property Fire Risk Assessment Form.

New guides added to the site include:

In addition to the new guidance the RLA is now offering online and classroom fire safety training courses which cover:

  • The different legislation relating to fire safety.
  • The different building/property types and which pieces of the above legislation apply
  • How to conduct fire risk assessments and protect both your tenants and your property from fire
  • Practical tips on fire safety and with reference to the LACORS fire safety guide.

For more information on our training courses click here.

Dame Judith is inviting comments and feedback on the interim report and plans to hold a summit of key stakeholders early in 2018.

 

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Communications Manager for the RLA and award-winning Editor of RPI magazine. With 16 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for producing articles for our Campaigns and News Centre, the weekly E-News newsletter and editorial content for our media partners.

She issues press releases promoting the work of the RLA and its policies and campaigns to the regional and national media and works alongside the marketing team on the association’s social media channels to build support for the RLA and its work.

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