Fire Sector Summit ‘I’m quite sure there will be change,’ he said

finally, given that the government’s listening exercise on Grenfell is complete, public opinion continues to drive the pace of change and civil servants reviewing building regulations are ‘arriving by the coachload’. In April 2019, when the final report is due, the Overarching Competency Body will take over the task and, while it is unclear if this will be a statutory or industry led body, ‘it must have the authority to ensure that competencies are adopted’, he declared.

Fire insurance landscape

‘Political rhetoric must be turned into action,’ asserted the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI’s) James Dalton, pointing up this ‘critical opportunity’ to review the building control system and replace a piecemeal approach with holistic thinking. The consultation over Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (ADB) should be immediate, the ban on combustible material needs work and the testing regime requires meaningful change, he continued, while the mandatory use of sprinklers in complex buildings should also be reviewed. The government’s deregulatory approach stems

from a downward trend in fires since 1981/82, until the Grenfell fire that claimed 72 lives, and prompted long expressed insurance industry concerns over serious risks to building safety and lives. Further, the government ignored warnings and

discounted evidence of the increasing costs of fire related insurance claims, which doubled in 2007-17 despite their number falling by half on average. Fires, though fewer, became more intense and costly, leading to the total loss of structures. However, in making the case that public policy settings for fire safety were incorrect, the ABI’s Tackling Fire: A Call for Action in 2009 ‘wasn’t a best seller’. It took Grenfell to make the government ‘sit up and take notice’. Insurers want a review of building regulations

and welcome the full ADB review announced for autumn, though fear timescales may slip. ABI’s case for reforming the building control system relates to new builds, while owners of existing building stock must understand the construction of their property and by law appropriately manage any risks, such as cladding or structural alterations. As the government ban only applies to buildings

over 18m, the ABI and 21 MPs are arguing that it doesn’t go far enough. ‘Put simply, combustible cladding does not belong on high risk buildings housing the most vulnerable in society.’ The ABI commissioned FPA study on BS 8414

showed current processes for cladding don’t replicate real world conditions. ‘Calls for change on this have ruffled feathers in the standards community’, he stated, nevertheless admitting that the British Standards Institution (BSI) has decided to review the framework.


Losses from sprinklered buildings are around

one tenth of those from unsprinklered buildings. Uncompartmentalised warehouses in England and Wales filled with densely packed goods can exceed 50,000m2

, to satisfy online shopping demands, yet

about 95% have no sprinkler provision. In England, sprinkler installation is not mandatory in new builds, which often house our most vulnerable residents, and ‘the bigger scandal’ is that no review since Grenfell has yet taken steps to reconsider this. Scrutiny of government recommendations and pace of action must continue, he urged, to avoid a repeat of the aftermath of Lakanal House. ‘It is incumbent on all of us [...] to ensure that these much needed changes become a reality.’

IFSS Coalition

Gary Strong of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) discussed the launch of the International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS) Coalition. Noting firstly that the lower number of UK fire deaths and fires pre Grenfell meant even RICS was ‘pretty complacent’ on fire safety, he said it was ‘not focused on at all’ on construction. The building sector has also ‘been ignoring’ aluminium composite material (ACM) and insulation issues for ‘a long, long time’. Studying fire safety holistically and how it operates ‘across the spectrum’ was key, while material science was not well understood, including ‘how ACM works in a fire’. With BS 8414 criticised and set to be overhauled, we ‘still don’t understand how facades act in real life’, with increased real life testing,and work on non DECEMBER 2018/JANUARY 2019 33

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