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Ministerial Working Group on building and fire safety

Published: 10 Aug 2017 18:01

Fourth meeting held.

The fourth meeting of the Ministerial Working Group on building and fire safety has taken place, chaired by Communities Secretary Angela Constance and involving Housing Minister Kevin Stewart, Health Secretary Shona Robison, Scottish Government officials and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

This group is overseeing a review of building and fire safety regulatory frameworks with an initial focus on high rise domestic buildings, following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London.

As part of the work programme taken forward by the group, there was a detailed discussion around the latest evidence on automatic fire suppression systems, with agreement reached that further research will be carried out to evaluate specific risks in high rise domestic buildings, consider the most vulnerable groups and recognise advances in technology. The first aspect of this work will be to commission a detailed inventory of design features of all high domestic buildings in Scotland to provide an evidence base to assist future work in this area being considered by the building standards working group.

The Group was also updated on the latest actions being taken by the Scottish Government, local authorities, the NHS, the fire and rescue service as well as other building owners across the country, including continued progress made by the fire and rescue service in carrying out fire safety visits. 

As part of the update on the series of robust further forensic checks that are continuing to take place across Scotland, including the NHS estate, the group heard that some ACM cladding has been found on parts of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow.  The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service reassured Ministers that as part of its regular risk based audit programme, it had carried out fire safety audits within the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which were found to be satisfactory.

Further discussion on this took place last night and today immediately after the meeting and as a precautionary measure, NHS GG&C have decided to remove the sections of cladding. 

Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities Angela Constance said:

“The group met again to continue our thorough review of our regulations and take any action needed.  Our work programme remains evidence-led to ensure the highest standards of building and fire safety is in place across Scotland.

“We had a very detailed discussion on automatic fire suppression systems, including sprinklers, and I have commissioned a detailed inventory of the high rise domestic building stock in Scotland to ensure we have as clear a picture as possible of ways in which to improve fire safety for residents.

“While we remain confident that we have stringent building and fire safety regulations we cannot afford to be in any way complacent. That is why detailed and robust checks continue across Scotland to assess buildings.   Where further investigation is needed it will be carried out to reassure people that adequate fire protection measures are in place. 

“I’d like to again give my thanks to all local authorities, the fire and rescue service, NHS Scotland, housing associations and numerous other building owners across Scotland who are continuing to work extremely hard at the moment to carry out these checks and provide that reassurance to the public.

“We’ll continue this partnership to ensure collectively we are doing our utmost to reassure members of the public of the safety of Scotland’s buildings.”

Cabinet Secretary for Health Shona Robison said:

“Patient safety is paramount and that is why further forensic checks are currently taking place across the whole NHS estate in Scotland. 

“Following the identification of a type of ACM on the QEUH of a similar type to, but not the same as Grenfell, I am reassured that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde have decided that the material is should be removed as a precautionary measure.”

Assistant Chief Officer David McGowan, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said:

"The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service have reassured Ministers that as part of its regular risk based audit programme, it had carried out fire safety audits within the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which were found to be satisfactory.”

Background

Building standards systems and regulations for high rise domestic properties in Scotland means the type of product used on Grenfell Tower should not be used in their cladding systems.  However, in some controlled circumstances specified by our building regulations, ACM can be used as part of the cladding systems of other buildings. Our building regulations specify that those cladding systems must meet the relevant technical requirements applicable in each case.

During the latest meeting the group:

  • Discussed its work plan and had an in depth session to review evidence on automatic fire suppression systems including sprinklers. Ministers were clear that this needed to be set in a Scottish context for fire safety for all.  Ms Constance asked for further  investigative work to be carried out that improved our understanding of the risks in high rise domestic buildings, that addressed the most vulnerable groups and recognised advances in technology. The first aspect of this work would be to commission a detailed inventory of the fire safety features of high rise domestic  building stock in Scotland.
  • Agreed that the next meeting of the group in September would be held at the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service HQ in Cambuslang where the group would see examples of how new technologies can be used in the home to enhance both fire safety and wider general safety of residents.
  • Agreed that on-going communication and sessions with key stakeholder organisations and tenants remain a priority.
  • Detailed  intelligence continues to be gathered on the use of ACM in the cladding systems of buildings in Scotland. This remains focused on any high-rise properties where people sleep overnight that have not already been captured by local authorities’ initial investigations and any other types of property where there are expected to be vulnerable people living.
  • Was provided a further update by The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service who said that work continued apace to carry out fire safety visits.  And additional 700  operational assurance visits have been carried out since the Grenfell Tower fire and  more than 900 additional home fire safety visits to residents in high-rise buildings.
  • Was updated that 5 surveyors have been recruited to assist Edinburgh and Glasgow in the remaining checks they have still to complete on privately-owned high rise buildings.

 In previous meetings the main points the group have heard are:

  • No high rise domestic buildings owned by councils or housing associations have used ACM cladding.
  • 30 of 32 local authorities have reported that ACM cladding has not been used on any privately owned high-rise domestic buildings. Edinburgh and Glasgow are completing  their investigations and it was acknowledged this will take time due to the numbers involved.  Scottish Government officials are in close contact with both local authorities and have offered additional assistance.
  • No Scottish local-authority owned school buildings above 18 metres have the type of cladding reported to have been used on the Grenfell tower – aluminium composite material (ACM) .
  • 14 local authorities have reported that a type of ACM which can be used appropriately has been used on a small number of low-rise schools. Checks are currently being carried out by local authorities and the fire brigade to ensure that all of these have been fitted in accordance with building regulations.
  • The Scottish Government has also requested information regarding universities and colleges including student accommodation. Initial indications are that there are no further issues expected.
  • All health boards have confirmed that none of their buildings use the cladding type reported to have been used on Grenfell Tower. As has previously been reported, and separate to today’s announcement, Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board has been assured by Multiplex, the main contractor for the hospital construction, that the insulation material used in Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow – Kingspan Kooltherm K15 Insulation Boards - were properly installed to meet building and fire safety regulations. This insulation is classified by the Building Regulations and is an acceptable product for use above 18 metres. We are confident this product has been used in a proper and safe manner in the hospital. Whilst this material was identified in recent media reports as being part of the cladding system on Grenfell Tower this was on less than 5% of Grenfell Tower and not the material that has been the focus of investigations.

Other actions in work plan already agreed:

  • A Scottish Government Building Standards Working Group to work with international experts on a review of building standards is being established.
  • A consultation will take place in the autumn on common standards for smoke and fire alarms in housing bringing forward planned work and noted positive initial discussions  with key partners in representing social landlords and local government.