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Publication - minutes

Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel minutes: April 2018

Published: 3 May 2018
Date of meeting: 11 Apr 2018
Location: Doubletree Hilton, Edinburgh Airport
Minutes of the meeting of the Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel that took place on 11 April 2018.
Published:
3 May 2018
Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel minutes: April 2018

Attendees and apologies

Present

  • Dr Paul Stollard, Chair

Members present

  • Prof Luke Bisby, Edinburgh University
  • Colin Blick, Welsh Government
  • Stewart Dalgarno, Construction Scotland
  • Damien Fairley, Northern Ireland Building Regulations
  • Alan McAulay, Local Authority Building Standards Scotland
  • Keith McGillivray, British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association
  • Dave Latto, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
  • Dr Debbie Smith, BRE Global
  • Colin Todd, CS Todd Associates Ltd.

Scottish Government:

  • Clyde Ashby
  • Stephen Garvin
  • Colin Hird
  • Jessica McPherson

Items and actions

1. Welcome, introductions and apologies

The Chair welcomed members of the review panel to the third meeting.

Apologies

  • Prof Sam Allwinkle, Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists
  • Stephen Good, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre
  • Mike Wood, Fire Sector Federation

Recent developments and considerations of the papers of this meeting

There was a brief discussion on the other workstreams being undertaken in Scotland in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, including the Compliance Enforcement Review Panel (which is due to have its third meeting on 23 April), the committee looking into issues in existing high rise residential blocks (jointly led by Housing and Fire Divisions) and the recent announcement on linked automatic fire detection requirements for all dwellings in Scotland.

There was some discussion as to the overlap with the Compliance and Enforcement workstream and members the agreed split in responsibility, ’so that this Review Panel would consider issues during the design stage to the point of warrant approval, and the Compliance and Enforcement review Panel would concentrate on the construction stage through to the acceptance of the Completion Certificate.

There was also discussion, led by those most closely involved, of work being undertaken in England: including the Hackitt Review (which is due to publish its final Report by the end of May) and the Public Inquiry (which is now not expected to complete, even the first stage, for some significant time). It was also noted that England had issued a consultation on desktop assessments today.

2. Conclusions from the previous meetings

The conclusions of the previous meetings were reviewed and confirmed. These are:

  1. The current structure of mandatory functional standards supported with performance based or prescriptive guidance in the Technical Handbooks works and should be retained.
  2. There is a need for some re-structuring of the Technical Handbooks to make clearer their status, functions and limitations.
  3. There is a need to develop a better mechanism for the verification of complex fire safety engineering solutions.
  4. There is a need for minor changes to the wording of some of the functional standards to remove ambiguities and close potential loop holes.
  5. There is a need to make some changes to the guidance in the Technical Handbooks on external cladding (section 2.4-2.8).
  6. There is a need to make some changes to the guidance in the Technical Handbooks on escape (section 2.9).
  7. There is an argument for extending the requirement for sprinklers to some additional building groups (section 2.15).

It was suggested by one member that some minor issues in the guidance in the Technical Handbook on Escape Lighting (section 2.10) should also be considered and he agreed to discuss this directly with staff in the Building Standards division.

Another member raised the problem of penetrations through the external cladding and she also agreed to discuss this directly with staff in the Building Standards division.

3. “Structural” revisions

There was discussion of what “structural” revisions might be needed on the basis of the first three conclusions already agreed. It was agreed:

  • There is a need to reinforce the principle that while compliance with the Functional Standards is the mandatory requirement, this is possible without following the guidance in Technical Handbooks.

  • That the guidance in the Technical Handbooks, although useable as default requirements and offering a benchmark against which alternatives can be verified, does not always have to serve as such a benchmark.

  • That there was some merit in the approach, put forward by the international sub-group, in the introduction of clear alternative pathways for compliance with the functional standards which would make it clearer that there was more than one way of achieving compliance and that the responsibility for choosing the design approach lies with the designer. Such alternative compliance pathways could be structured as follows:

  • a very prescriptive pathway, available for all to use,

  • a middle pathway, or pathways, which combines engineering principles and prescribed or performance requirements, within agreed bounds, for those competent to use it properly, and
  • a fully performance based “fire safety engineering” pathway, from first principles, available for those competent to use it properly.

  • That there were unlikely to be many schemes following a fully performance based “fire safety engineering” pathway, probably less than 20 each year in Scotland.

  • The Technical Handbooks should only provide guidance for the basic and middle pathways.

  • That there might be merit in some restructuring of the Technical Handbooks to stress the equal status of such alternative compliance pathways.

  • That if alternative compliance pathways were to be highlighted then there needs to be additional guidance given to verifiers on how to verify compliance with these different pathways with:

  • The very prescriptive pathway should be capable of verification by all competent building standards professional employed by verifiers without any particular extra training.

  • The middle pathway(s) requires to be verified by building standards professionals who are at least equally competent, which might mean a degree of additional training for staff identified to undertake such verification, but should be within the competence of all verifying authorities.

  • The fully performance based “fire safety engineering” pathway must be handled by those competent to verify fire safety engineered designs.

  • That there might be merit in some form of central verification “hub” for verifiers to use to assist in the verification of such fully performance based “fire safety engineering” designs, should expertise not be available ‘in-house’

  • In the longer term it might be possible to establish a system for Building Standard Certification of Design for Section 2: Fire, however the shortage of professionals working in this field means that this is at least five years away and probably much longer.

4. Individual standards

There was discussion on what revisions might be needed on the basis of the last four conclusions already agreed. After a general discussion of the “Reaction to Fire” tests these were considered standard by standard.

“Reaction to Fire” Tests

It was agreed:

  • That the table on “Reaction to Fire”, which currently applies to Standards 2.4 – 2.7, should be replaced with unique tables linked to each of the four Standards.

  • That if necessary the term “risk” in the table should be changed to ‘Fire Spread Potential’ or something similar, with the text in each subsequent row changed to “Negligible”, “Low”, “Medium”, “High” and “Very-High”, accordingly. In addition it the accompanying text might include something like this: “The categories of Fire Spread Potential reflect the potential for ignition, continuous self-burning, intolerable smoke production and spread, and intolerable flame spread.

  • That there was no longer the need to retain both British Standards and European Standards in the guidance.

  • That if the British Standards on “Reaction to Fire” were no longer to be listed in the Technical Handbooks consideration must be given to those products, which are approved under the currently cited British Standard reaction to fire test methods, but which have not been tested under the applicable Harmonised European standardised reaction to fire test methods. Such a change needs to be signalled to the industry as soon as possible and careful thought given to the possible need for a transition period.

Standard 2.4 - Cavities

It was agreed:

  • The Functional Standard should be very carefully analysed to close a loophole which is very occasionally being exploited around the words “unseen” and “concealed”. One solution might be the use of the word “cavity” within the standard.

  • That the guidance in the Technical Handbooks would only cover the use of A1 and A2 products under the Harmonised European reaction to fire test classes.

  • That there would be a need to examine closely any possible unintended consequences from such a restriction in the guidance, particularly in the case of insulation materials in cavities and for timber frame manufacturers.

Standard 2.5 - Internal Linings

It was agreed:

  • The Functional Standard should not be changed.

  • That the guidance in the Technical Handbooks would not be changed other than in respect of the reaction to fire tests as already discussed.

Standard 2.6 2.7 - Spread to neighbouring buildings and Spread on external walls

It was agreed:

  • The Functional Standard for 2.6 should not be changed.

  • The Functional Standard for 2.7 should be very carefully analysed to see if something could be included about the “rate of spread” and it was left to the Chair to liaise with the member who had suggested additional wording to this standard.

  • That the guidance in the Technical Handbooks would only cover the use of A1 and A2 products under the Harmonised European reaction to fire test classes, for buildings over a certain height. There was discussion on what height this might be; it could be four or more storeys, five or more storeys, or over 11m. There was some feeling that the height should reflect the ability of the fire service to direct a ground level mounted water jet on to the external wall.

  • That BS8414 (and BR135) would still be discussed within the Technical Handbooks as a potential method of providing evidence to show compliance in the case of the “middle pathway(s)”.

Standard 2.8 - Spread from neighbouring buildings

It was agreed:

  • The Functional Standard should not be changed.

  • The guidance in the Technical Handbooks on this standard did not require change as it related to the tests of roof covering rather than reaction to fire.

Standard 2.9 - Escape

It was agreed:

  • The Functional Standard should not be changed.

  • That the strategy of “stay put / defend in place” was so well established and robust that it should be considered as part of the very prescriptive pathway.

  • That if “stay put / defend in place” is the chosen strategy then it should be stated explicitly as such in the guidance documents.

  • That if “stay put / defend in place” is the chosen strategy then fire service activated evacuation sounders should be required in buildings over an agreed height. There was discussion on what height this might be; it could be four or more storeys, five or more storeys, over 11m, or over 18m.

  • That the current 18m height is historic and does not relate to current fire service tactics or equipment; however it should be retained, as a height is required at about that level and this arbitrary figure is as useful as any other.

  • That the option of using pressurised escape stairs should be removed, though they would still remain possible as part of the compliance route for the performance based “fire safety engineering” compliance pathway.

There was a difference of opinion among members on the need to provide a second stairway if “stay put / defend in place” is the chosen strategy. Some considered a single stairway was sufficient, others that two stairways were necessary over an agreed height, probably 18m. One of the issues discussed was the access requirements for fire-fighters as residents of affected flats were seeking to escape and it was agreed that if one stairway was considered to be sufficient then for buildings over an agreed height this might have to be wider than currently set out in guidance. It was also noted that there is a public expectation of more escape options in the light of Grenfell.

Standard 2.15 - Sprinklers

Although there were some significant differences of opinion among members on the necessity of increasing the number of building types required to install automatic life safety sprinkler systems by this prescriptive standard, the following issues were agreed by all:

  • It is never acceptable to “trade-off” the provision of sprinklers as compensation for a reduction in the number of stairs or a lower fire safety performance of the cladding.

  • It is important to integrate any extra requirements completely into the existing building standards system, therefore it was preferable to do so through amendments to the existing Statutory Instruments rather than through a separate parallel piece of legislation.

  • It is important to learn from the Welsh experience, especially on practical issues such as water supplies.

  • There is a public expectation that more building groups will require sprinklers in the light of Grenfell.

  • The decision on the addition of other building groups should be evidence based, using fire statistics and recognising continuing demographic and social changes.

  • The decision on the addition of other building groups should also consider cost-effectiveness.

  • HMOs used for “care” 24/7, should be included on list of required building groups. This will necessitate a very careful definition of “care” and “HMO”.

  • Flats should be included on the list of required building groups, provided the installation costs kept at the lower end of the scale (i.e. simpler installations).

  • Single detached dwellings, should NOT be included on the list of required groups.

  • If “social” housing (which is in effect affordable housing) was to be included on list of required groups, then the costs of such requirements would have to be found in the public sector, therefore the decision is one for government rather than the private sector one.

5. Deletions and Additions to the Technical Handbooks

It was agreed:

  • That the scope of the Technical Handbooks should be reduced, though without so limiting them that designers are forced to employ fire engineers when these were perhaps not necessary due to the relatively simple nature of the building.

  • That there are some existing sections which should not be used without sufficient specialist understanding and experience.

  • That the Non-Domestic Technical Handbook should no longer continue to include the annexes which cover hospitals and shopping centres.

  • That the material in these annexes was better published separately, not least so that it could be reviewed and updated as required.

  • That the annex covering residential care buildings should be reviewed and might be best published separately.

  • That there was a strong argument for the production of an additional Technical Handbook for simple domestic detached and semi-detached dwellings (up to 3 storeys).

6. Next Steps

It was agreed that notes from this meeting would be circulated for comment as before and that these might then be able to be used as part of any public consultation on what changes might be necessary to the Functional Standards, the Technical Standards and the processes for verification.

It was agreed that any such public consultation should ideally be combined with any proposals which come from the Review Panel being chaired by John Cole on Compliance and Enforcement, and any other fire safety related changes which Ministers might wish to seek comment upon.

It was explained that it was not possible to give a firm timetable about when such a consultation might occur. Although it was agreed that there was no need for this Review Panel to meet again before consultation members were happy to reassemble to review the results of the consultation in due course.

Members were thanked for their commitment time and energy to this Review Panel and a number expressed pleasure at the way it had been conducted with such speed and logical rigour. The ability to achieve a consensus on virtually all issues was commented upon positively.

Contact

Email: BFSResponse@gov.scot

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

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