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Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

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James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry.James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
January 3, 2023

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Building safety

Government opens consultation proposing second staircases in buildings and mandatory sprinklers in care homes

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has proposed several new updates to Approved Document B, including recommendations to mandate sprinklers in care homes and second staircases for new tower blocks over 30m in height.

The Government is inviting responses to the consultation which is open until 17 March 2023 – responses can be provided online here.

Key proposals will recommend that any new tower blocks over 30 metres will need to have more than one staircase, as well as mandating sprinklers in all new care homes, regardless of height, to improve the safety of vulnerable residents.

Several fire safety issues have been raised surrounding care homes due to the vulnerable nature of residents, with a facility in Warrington being fined £60,000 in October following what the Judge said to be “unforgiveable” fire safety failures.

Additional measures include removing references to the national classifications (BS 476) from Approved Document B. This means the dual system will end and construction product manufacturers will be required to test their products to the British standard version of European Standards.

Meanwhile, the Government has called for evidence seeking views from industry on what materials should be covered and how best to improve the clarity of the guidance in Approved Document B.

Minister for Local Government and Building Safety Lee Rowley said: “There are undoubtedly lessons still to be learnt from the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Department for Housing is committed to working with the sector and residents to explore what more needs to be done to make new homes across the country safe.

“This consultation is the next step in the Department’s work to improve building regulations and make sure they are as clear and effective as possible.”

Second staircases an ongoing debate

Stairway-Building-22The subject of mandating second staircases within tall buildings in England has come under much scrutiny, particularly in the years following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

Single staircases have been common practice in England, with the intention to work alongside a ‘stay put’ policy of evacuation in the incident of a fire. However, Grenfell highlighted concerns that there is no guarantee that every building is properly built and maintained, while residents are more likely to seek evacuation since Grenfell.

These were some of the points made at an impassioned debate on the issue at the Tall Buildings Fire Safety Conference that took place at FIREX in May, 2022.

In January last year, a developer of a residential skyscraper designed with only one fire escape staircase said it was changing its plans after the London Fire Brigade and fire safety experts branded it “madness”.

Meanwhile, in August, a circular letter was sent by the Government’s Building Safety Portfolio to the wider industry highlighting advice from the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC), which has expressed fears over proposals for tall residential buildings without second staircases.

The move from the Government came just a week after the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) released a statement in December calling for new residential buildings over 18 metres to be required to have more than one staircase.

On 14 December, Gavin Tomlinson, NFCC Protection and Business Safety Scrutiny Committee Chair stated: “We are calling on the Government to ensure that all new high rise residential buildings over 18 metres, or seven storeys, have more than one fire escape staircase. In the event of a fire, a correctly designed second staircase removes the risk of a single point of failure, buying critical time for firefighting activities, and providing residents with multiple escape routes.”

Removal of national classes

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry criticised the use of the national classification standards (i.e. the BS 476 series) for reaction to fire and fire resistance in Approved Document B, with potential flaws in its use being identified. In response, the Government removed reference to the national classifications from the main body of the document, so that it now only forms part of the annex. The Government now plans to remove the national classifications from Approved Document B in its entirety and seeks to utilise the more internationally recognised approach.

Natalie Sellar, Managing Associate for Addleshaw Goddard, highlights the potential impact on the fire market this change may have: “This proposal will mostly impact cavity barriers, fire doors, smoke vents, and roofs. If implemented, manufacturers who are not currently testing to BS-EN standards will need to complete product tests and re-labelling, to ensure they meet the new standards. Developers and builders within the fire door market are also likely to be subject to significant cost increases when purchasing fire doors given these products are often aligned to international market practices.”

The Government is proposing a twelve-month transition period once these changes have been implemented, to ease any disruption which may be caused for some industries due to capacity issues in product testing.

Practical considerations

Commenting further on the potential impact of the consultation, Natalie added: “These proposals will clearly most impact building projects which are currently at the design stage, as changes to both the design of a building (by including a second staircase) and/or use of certain construction products may ultimately result in additional costs and delay. Developers should be alive to the short transition period, and should consider implementing such changes prior to these proposals coming into effect.

“Whilst the proposals generally apply to new residential buildings, those who are responsible for an occupied, high-rise residential building will still be subject to the safety case regime under the Building Safety Act.  The regime requires a principal accountable person to identify and assess fire and structural risks of their building on an ongoing basis. The accountable person will therefore still need to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent building safety risks and have appropriate fire protection and preventative measures in place.”

 

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