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Publication - Minutes

Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel International-Sub-Group minutes: November 2017

Published: 24 Jan 2018
Date of meeting: 14 Nov 2017

Minutes of the meeting of the Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel International Sub-Group that took place on 14 November 2017.

Attendees and apologies

Present

  • Dr Paul Stollard, Chair
  • Brian Ashe – Australian Building Control Board, Australia
  • Brian Meacham – Worcester Polytechnic Institute, (from 1/1/2018 Meacham Associates), USA
  • Rainer Mikulits, Austrian Institute of Construction Engineering, Austria
  • IJsbrand van Straalen – Dutch research organization TNO
  • Bill Dodds – Scottish Government

Items and actions

1. Welcome, remit, objective and procedures

The Chair welcomed members of the international sub-group of the Review Panel to the first meeting.

Remit, objective

The objective of the Review Panel was discussed, this is: “to recommend what changes might be necessary”.

The remit of the Review Panel on Building Standards (Fire Safety) in Scotland was discussed, this is:

1. To review standards in light of evidence from Grenfell Tower, 2. To comment on appropriateness and relevance of the current standards and guidance 3. To consider the relevant of British Standard and European tests. 4. To provide an opinion of whether any changes are necessary. 5. To keep this under review, as further evidence emerges.

It was agreed that the role of the international sub-group should be to review the work of the Review Panel in order to provide critical challenge and international perspectives.

Procedures

The linkage with the Compliance and Enforcement Panel, being chaired by John Cole, was explained.

There was recognition that the Review Panel’s timetable may change as evidence emerges from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in England.

There was a discussion on confidentiality and it was agreed that notes would be taken of this meeting and these would only be made public once agreed by the members. However these notes would try to present the collective views and the consensus which the group could achieve. Views and opinions would not be attributed to individual members.

2. Wider context of work following Grenfell Tower fire

This had already been explained and discussed during a two hour session at the full IRCC meeting the day before (13 November), with presentations by Bill Dodds and Paul Stollard. During this session there also been some general discussion of the following key areas and various contributions had been offered by IRCC members. Some of the thoughts of IRCC members are included in the final section of these notes.

This was in addition to the questionnaire which was being completed by IRCC members, the first draft of which was tabled at the IRCC meeting. A paper on the results of the questionnaire will be produced in due course and circulated to all IRCC members.

3. Report on the First Review Panel Meeting

As the notes of the first Review Panel meeting held on 27 October had not yet been agreed by those who attended, Paul Stollard provided a full verbal briefing on the issues that had been discussed. The agreed notes will be shared in due course.

4. Confirming the remit and objectives

There was detailed discussion on the precise areas to be considered. In particular:

4.1 Should standards other than 2.4.-2.9 and 2.15 be considered?

It was agreed that these standards should be the focus of the Review Panel; however it was stressed that the impact of these particular standards on the other building standards must be taken into account. It was also felt to be essential that it was understood that a holistic view was being taken, with these three areas (cladding, means of escape and sprinklers) being simply the subject of the most detailed consideration. “Everything was considered, but these three areas were considered to have a high level of importance”.

4.2 Should building use types other than residential and domestic be considered?

It was agreed that residential and domestic should be the focus for the Review Panel. However it was felt that there were also two key factors; size/scale and building use in fire safety.

This could be considered to be the “reverse of 4.1”, the review should start with these two building types (those where people sleep), but be prepared to expand the scope to cover other building types if this becomes necessary. It was also felt that the numbers and characteristics of the occupancy may be found to be more significant than the building use types.

The problem of changes which may occur in the occupancy of a building during its life, even if the building does not formally change its building use category, may be very significant (e.g. the use of domestic buildings for asylum seekers who may be unfamiliar with the country and the normal use of the building).

4.3 Was the current definition of high rise (over 18m) appropriate?

It was agreed that heights might have to be tailored to the use of the building, as the two are normally linked. The review should be considering the vulnerability of the occupants (e.g. care homes may only be two storeys, but pose a high risk of multiple deaths).

It was also agreed that “Regulations can’t do everything”. There might have to be recognition of the contribution to safety of factors which cannot be regulated for through building standards (e.g. the pro-active management regimes of a particular high rise development).

It was felt that if “defend in place” is to be the philosophy behind the guidance then it is important to be totally open and honest about this, stating it explicitly in the documents. There should be absolute clarity about the intention of any regulation or set of guidance.

(Note – the current functional standard can be complied with by either “defend in place” or “full evacuation” strategies, as it does not mandate either. So it is in the Technical Handbooks that this would have to be made explicit.)

4.4 Existing buildings.

It was felt that the review has to face the problems of where people live now, but the group were unhappy at the idea of existing buildings having to meet the standards required of new buildings.

Existing buildings were considered to possibly be a distraction for the Review Panel, as this is a rectification issue, rather than simply a technical issue. As a rectification issue there is a powerful political dimension to this.

The USA has a separate Existing Buildings Code, produced by the ICC.

In the Dutch Building Decree formal fire safety requirements and matching verification methods are given for existing buildings. There is a difference in safety level compared with the requirements for new buildings.

4.5 Functional, performance and prescriptive standards.

The group is fully aware that it is reviewing both the Functional Requirements (set in Regulations) and the Technical Handbooks, and felt they required different approaches. It was felt that there is a need to restate to designers, certifiers and verifiers what the difference is between the Technical Handbooks (which are guidance) and the Functional Requirements (which are mandatory). The essential structure of the building standards system, with this split, is fine, but it is not properly understood.

The “elephant in the room” was considered to be the acceptability of alternative ways of showing compliance with the Functional Standards. The group would “shine a light” on the “elephant”, but was not going to attempt to set out all the ways of achieving compliance. Rather the Review Panel should use the Functional/ Performance/ Prescriptive structure to their advantage. For example, it resolves the need to work out all the possible solutions to the problems of existing buildings.

There was a need to restate the provisions of the 2003 Act, for example on the role and status of Technical Handbooks.

5. Methods of working, ways forward.

It was accepted that this was an international sub-group of the Review Panel with the task of reviewing the work of the main panel, while at the same time fully accepting the need to focus on key issues.

Each sub-group member was speaking in a personal capacity, although (with the exception of Brian Meacham) they were being appointed as representing their organisations on the IRCC.

Contractual details will be settled individually by Bill Dodds.

The method of working diagram tabled at the meeting was accepted and the sub-group will aim to meet 2-4 weeks after the main Review Panel, either face to face or electronically. The next two meetings of the Review Panel have been set as 17 January and 11 April. Therefore it was agreed that the sub-group will aim to meet around the beginning of February, possibly in Edinburgh, and then possibly linked to the IRCC’s next meeting, due to be held in Vienna 22-24 May. Members will be contacted in due course to settle dates.

6. Additional notes from the discussion at the full IRCC meeting (13 November)

These notes should be read in conjunction with the summary of the questionnaire to IRCC members.

6.1 Standard 2.15 Sprinklers

There were varying approaches to the use of sprinklers, but some common themes:

  • Almost every jurisdiction had some requirement for sprinklers in residential and domestic buildings.
  • These were always for the control of the fire in place of origin.
  • The height at which these were required varied significantly.
  • In one Municipal area within one jurisdiction the installation of sprinklers had been required into every existing residential building over a certain height, at the owner’s expense.

6.2 Standard 2. 9 Means of Escape

The means of escape guidance varies between jurisdictions and the following points were made:

  • Compartmentation is linked to means of escape
  • Means of escape has two linked components – the physical (e.g. number of stairs) and the behavioural (e.g. fire service strategies)
  • Various approaches to escape in high rise, some “defend in place”, some “total evacuation”, often alternatives within the same jurisdiction depending on other factors.
  • Differences as to the height to which single staircases are considered to be acceptable.
  • There was little evidence of the pressurisation of staircases being fully put to the test in real fires.
  • Some countries believed pressurised staircases would never work and therefore did not make concessions for them.

6.3 Standards 2.4 - 2.8 Cladding, Materials and Testing

This was considered to be the most complex issue and most jurisdictions were concerned at the possibility that there standards might not be sufficient to prevent the installation of materials similar to those used at the Grenfell Tower.

Contact

Email: BFSResponse@gov.scot

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

Published:
24 Jan 2018
Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel International-Sub-Group minutes: November 2017