How will fire regulation changes affect my residential building site?

In part two of a three-part candid interview, Warringtonfire’s technical manager, Peter Barker, and regulatory analyst, Ross Newman, offer expert commentary on the impact of changes in fire regulation, roles and responsibilities.

Q: How will these regulatory changes affect a typical residential building site? 

Ross: Most of these regulatory amendments relate to buildings of medium height and high rise. But that is not to say that some of these changes do not apply to your typical residential building site. There are reaction to fire requirements for the external surface of materials, such as timber cladding, to meet a certain European classification, specifically when it comes to how close a building is to a boundary. 

Previously, if you used certain varnishes or paint materials to finish a timber product, it might have achieved a Class 0 or Class 3 under the national classification. These results are unlikely to be acceptable anymore. You must now be looking at the European classification system to ensure your finishes meet the relevant requirements in Section B2 and Section B4 of Approved Document B.

Q: Do the regulatory changes affect completed buildings and those currently being built?

Ross: To answer this question it’s best to refer to the second page in the introduction of the June 2022 amendment to Approved Document B, as it tells you that, “The current 2019 edition, incorporating the 2022 amendments will continue to apply, where a building notice or an initial notice has been given to, or full plans deposited with, a local authority before the 1 December 2022". The amendments therefore apply from 1 December 2022, but I would recommend reading the full details of the June 2022 amendments to Approved Document B for the avoidance of doubt. 

Peter: I have a question for Ross. Under The Fire Safety Act and Building Safety Act for existing buildings, are there now extra considerations relating to the risk assessment for high-rise residential buildings?

Ross: That’s a very valid question. The Fire Safety Act now requires fire risk assessments of high-rise residential buildings to include external wall constructions and common areas including fire doors.

Q: How have the roles and responsibilities for fire and building safety changed in the new legislation? 

Ross: There are a number of new roles that have been introduced under the new legislation, with the primary aim of identifying duty holders who will have clear accountability and statutory responsibility for high-rise residential buildings and other buildings identified as high-risk. The following roles have been defined: Accountable Person(s), Principal Designer and Principal Contractor. 

Peter: To follow on from Ross, the roles of the Principal Designer and Principal Contractor include similar responsibilities as those defined under the CDM (Construction Design Management) Regulations 2015, but as duty holders under the Building Safety Act, will be required to manage building safety risks, with clear lines of responsibility during the design, construction and completion of all buildings. Accountable Persons will need to demonstrate that they have effective, proportionate measures in place to manage building safety risks in the higher-risk buildings for which they are responsible and duty holders such as the Accountable Person, Principal Designer and Principal Contractor, who do not meet their obligations may face criminal charges. 

I would also like to mention the interaction between the Responsible Person and the Accountable Person, because there are questions as to whether one replaces the other. 

It has now been clarified that they could indeed be the same person. However, the legislation doesn’t replace the Responsible Person with an Accountable Person for those buildings that fall within scope. 

The Responsible Person is a defined role that’s been in place since the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order came into force in 2006. New regulations will introduce a requirement for an Accountable Person, as explained. Like I said, they could be the same individual, but it’s not an automatic replacement.

Q: What is the most pressing regulatory change a designer or architect must focus on? 

Ross: If I was a designer or an architect working in the world of timber construction or using timber materials, then I think my main focus would really be getting to grips with the current building regulation changes and amendments, including those in the Building Safety Act and in Approved Document L and Approved Document B.

I would really make sure that I have clearly understood what these changes may bring about, what that means, how I can use timber materials, or if it might make more sense to use other materials in certain areas. Of course, you would still want to use timber for a number of reasons, not least of which would be its known environmental and sustainability credentials. 

Peter: Yes, I agree. You could follow the design and planning process which you’re previously familiar with, but if you don’t get your head around all the regulatory amendments, you could end up with significant delays and costs at the planning and design stages.

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