Which fire regulation change should I focus on?

In part three of a three-part candid interview, Warringtonfire’s technical manager, Peter Barker, and regulatory analyst, Ross Newman, discuss which new fire regulations a developer or owner should focus on and what further changes to expect.

Q: What is the most pressing regulatory change a developer or owner must focus on? 

Ross: If you’re what’s currently defined as a client or owner who’s going to be the investor in a development, there are a lot of new requirements that you are going to have to take on in terms of responsibility under the Building Safety Act. Again, these new amendments will apply to relevant high-rise, high-risk buildings. However, if you are involved in this area there will be a lot to understand in terms of making sure the people that you employ are competent to do the jobs that they’re being asked to do and that you are developing buildings that are safe for people to occupy. 

Gateway 1 and the new Gateways 2 and 3 that will kick in through the Building Safety Act as discussed earlier are geared towards higher-risk buildings which are currently defined as those at least 18m in height or containing more than seven storeys. At the present time it is not known whether this model will be adopted for all types of buildings.

Q: So, in your opinion, what further regulatory changes are to come? 

Ross: I think in 2023, 2024 and 2025 we’re really going to start to see the impact of the secondary legislation from the Building Safety Act. This will affect further changes to those already being made to the Approved Documents and Regulation 7. 

I would expect the sector to review their design, specification and procurement processes by making sure products are fit for purpose, and a lot more evidence-based with a paper trail to say why that product or system is suitable for a specific application. This will produce an auditable paper trail, which will be necessary for duty holders to meet the requirements of the new regulatory framework. Some of this information will then be passed on to building occupants by the Accountable Person, which aligns with one of the recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt, with respect to maintaining the golden thread of information.

Peter: Yes. In future, it will be necessary to cope with a lot more information in terms of records and handover documentation. I think there will be a focus on digital information and how that can be sensibly packaged up for each building. This could drive digital innovation and advances in Building Information Modelling (BIM) - a technology that isn’t currently being exploited as much as it might for what it can achieve. 

There’s a lot to get your head around, but I do agree that there will have to be a huge cultural shift in the way that the construction industry communicates with clients. The current structure of subcontractors, subcontracting to further subcontractors, and the way information flows through that chain, will need careful review by the large developers to account for the coming changes. There is certainly an expectation around increased collaboration between interested parties, from designer through principal contractor, to the point of building handover and ongoing operation.

Everyone in the construction industry will need to collaborate to ensure that safety is designed into buildings at the outset. This will be a good thing, resulting in a lot more upfront design detailing prior to the construction stage, with everyone clear that the evidence is already in place to support the chosen design. The new gateways are designed to achieve this. The idea is to know what you are going to build, who is going to build it, and how it’s going to be built at each stage, all the way to the point where the building is to be occupied. The final building then actually represents what you planned to build in the first instance.

Q: So, in future the responsibility for building and fire safety will be shared across all parties with a required custodial chain of evidence? 

Peter: Yes. 

Ross: Yes. A requirement referred to as ‘the golden thread of information" in the Hackitt report. While it’s not yet clear what this golden thread of information will need to include, or what form it will take, it is fairly certain it will be a requirement in future … and one which we will very much depend upon. 

We might, for example, emulate the auto industry which requires product numbers and processing details that are recorded and traced through the production line and in service. Such that anyone can check the construction manual and pick out exactly what the product is, when it needs to be taken in for repairs or maintenance, and where they can go to get a relevant replacement part. 

This level of traceability will take many years to implement within the world of construction, because it’s a very different sector that requires tens of thousands of components to produce a single building. Meanwhile, there are still many unanswered questions, and we must continue to work within the complexities of current legislation while we await further regulatory changes and approved government guidance.

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