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Publication - minutes

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

Published: 20 Jun 2018
Date of meeting: 25 May 2018
Date of next meeting: 2 Oct 2018
Location: Offices of OIB, Vienna
Minutes of the meeting of the Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel that took place on 25 May 2018.
Published:
20 Jun 2018
Building Standards (Fire Safety) Review Panel minutes: May 2018

Attendees and apologies

Present

  • Dr Paul Stollard, Chair

Members present

  • Brian Ashe, Australian Building Control Board, Australia
  • Brian Meacham, Meacham Associates (formerly Worcester Polytechnic Institute),USA
  • Rainer Mikulits, Austrian Institute of Construction Engineering (OIB)
  • IJsbrand van Straalen, Dutch research organization TNO

Items and actions

1. Welcome, agreed notes, general thoughts

The Chair welcomed members of the international sub-group of the Review Panel to the third meeting and thanked Dr Rainer Mikulits for the use of his offices.

The notes from the second international sub-group meeting had been circulated and agreed in advance.

It was agreed to use the agreed notes from the third meeting of the UK based Review Panel held on 11 April, as the agenda for this meeting. These had been circulated in advance.

There was an explanation of the likely next steps and the possible consultation resulting from the work of this Review Panel, along with the conclusions from the Review Panel considering Compliance and Enforcement and other work being undertaken by the Scottish Government.

Members felt that the consultation should not underplay the significance of the changes likely to be proposed on both technical and procedural issues and were particularly keen that these should form an integrated set of proposals. They mentioned the media reaction to the recent report on the building regulations system in England, chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt.

It was agreed that members would be kept informed of progress towards a consultation and provided with the relevant documents as soon as they were available.

2. Conclusions from the previous meetings

All members were content to endorse the conclusions of previous meetings. These were that :

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).

3. “Structural” revisions

There was general endorsement of the views of the UK based Review Panel; however a number of issues were discussed.

The term “alternative compliance pathway” was felt to be confusing. It should simply be made clear that, for some functional standards, the Technical Handbooks would contain guidance on two (or more) solutions which equally meet the functional standards. It should also be made absolutely clear that it is equally acceptable to meet the functional standards by a fully performance based “fire safety engineering” approach working from first principles, although no guidance on the detail of this would be included in the Technical Handbooks.

The principle of having a national “hub” which would be responsible for the verification of such fully performance based “fire safety engineering” designs was endorsed. (Members had already been supplied with a copy of Brian Meacham’s research on this for the Building Standards Division.)

Comparisons were made between such a national “hub” and the system for ensuring Safety at Sports Grounds and the Technical Inspection Service in the Netherlands. There was some discussion on the difficulty on assessing how many schemes should be dealt with by such a “hub”, but it was agreed it should also cover nationally important buildings. It was felt that schemes being handled by the “hub” should be assessed throughout the design, construction and commissioning stages, as well as when they were altered, extended or changed use. There was considered to be real value in seconding staff to work with such a hub and that it could play a significant educational role within the building standards system in Scotland.

4. “Reaction to fire” tests

Members had already been supplied with a copy of Brian Meacham’s research on this for the Building Standards Division.

All were 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.

There was endorsement for the removal of British Standards and the intention to use only the European Standards. There was a discussion on nomenclature and it was concluded that it would be clearer to simply use the classes within the European Standards (A, B, etc.). However, it was felt useful to use the explanatory sentence, “The categories of fire spread potential reflect the potential for ignition, continuous self-burning, intolerable smoke production and spread, and intolerable flame spread.”

There was acceptance that there might be a need for some existing products to be included on a list of materials always deemed compliant, and for other materials with current British Standard test documentation to be given a transition period of perhaps two years.

Some members felt that a similar approach should also be taken to the Resistance to Fire Tests, with again the removal of British Standards and the use of only the European Standards.

5. Cavities (2.4)

All were agreed that that the guidance in the Technical Handbooks would only cover the use of A2 or better products under the Harmonised European reaction to fire test classes. This might also mean 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.

6. Internal linings (2.5)

All were agreed that the guidance in the Technical Handbooks would not be changed other than in respect of the reaction to fire tests as already discussed.

The issue of very large internal walls, where for example there was the enclosure of a previously external space or in an atria, was also discussed and it was recognised that these might have to be tested as if they were external walls.

7. Spread to neighbouring buildings and spread on external walls (2.6 and 2.7)

All were agreed that the guidance in the Technical Handbooks would only cover the use of A2 or better products under the Harmonised European reaction to fire test classes, for buildings over a “certain height”. However one member recommended that there should be a careful check to ensure that there was an unintended lowering of standards by permitting A2 products.

The group agreed that the “certain height” could logically be related to reflect the ability of the fire service to direct a ground level mounted water jet on to the external wall. 11m was considered a reasonable figure and the same as one of the heights used in Austria for similar categorisation.

It was also agreed that BS8414 (and BR135) should still be included within the Technical Handbooks as a method of providing evidence to show compliance with the Functional Standard.

8. Spread from neighbouring buildings (2.8)

All were agreed that the functional standard and 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.

9. Escape (2.9)

The group did not agree with the UK based members of the Review Panel that the strategy of “stay put / defend in place” was so well established and robust that it should be considered as part of the basic very prescriptive guidance.

They were content for guidance on “stay put / defend in place” to be included in the Technical Handbooks, provided this was regarded a valuable temporary measure while attempts were made to extinguish a fire, and that provision was also made for full evacuation should that became necessary.

Comparison was made with the Royal Commission’s findings on the bush fires in the State of Victoria, where previous advice on staying to protect property had been found to be deficient and changed to a policy of “leave early”. It was considered prudent to reflect on this matter once the expert reports and evidence before the Grenfell Tower Inquiry have been considered. Grenfell Public Inquiry.

There was some surprise at the difference of opinion among members of the UK based Review Panel on the need to provide a second stairway, with the members of international group feeling this was essential and some quoting from their own national guidance. One member summarised the key issue as being, the baseline provision of access to at least two independent means of escape for most buildings. He argued that while for small domestic buildings this can be windows, if this option is not reasonable due to the height then a second stairway is necessary.

The principle reason for the need for a second stairway was considered to be the provision of an alternative in case one was compromised by the fire; it was not primarily to provide access for fire-fighters. The height at which a second stairway was required, but 18m was regarded as reasonable.

10. Sprinklers (2.15)

All members concurred with the points agreed by the UK based members of the review panel that:

  • 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.

11. Deletions and Additions

All were agreed that:

  • The Non-Domestic Technical Handbook should no longer continue to include the annexes which cover hospitals and shopping centres and that the material in these annexes was better published separately, not least so that it could be reviewed and updated as required.

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

  • 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).

12. Next meeting

It was explained that that there might be a request for the international sub-group of the Review Panel to meet again to consider the results of the consultation. Members agreed that they were happy to do this and would keep Tuesday 2 October free in the diaries for such a possible meeting, this being the day before the IRCC meeting due to be held in the Hague between 3-5 October 2018.

Contact

Email: BFSResponse@gov.scot

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

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