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Project Engineer, UL

February 27, 2014

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Will Ireland’s New Building Regulations Deliver Fire-Safe Buildings?

Dublin Ireland bridge night

During Ireland’s building boom poor building standards were rife, most infamously at the Priory Hall development in Dublin.

As well as numerous build quality issues, the lack of fire-stopping forced residents to leave their homes in 2011 on safety grounds, never to return.

After years of campaigning by the apartment owners, a deal was finally struck with mortgage providers in October 2013 which allowed former residents to move on from what the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny described as “the worst of what happened during the so-called Celtic Tiger years”.

The Irish Department for the Environment, Community and Local Government published this month the new ‘Code of Practice for Inspecting and Certifying Buildings and Works’ – Building Control (Amendment) Regulations (BCAR) February 2014, a legacy of the Priory Hall scandal.

This change in building regulations is an attempt to prevent the delivery of new builds that are not fully compliant with building codes. The guide states “The overall objective of the revised building control system is to achieve better building construction.”

PrintThe new system introduces the concept of an ‘Assigned Certifier’; this person is effectively the link with all those involved in a project from start to finish. They will be responsible for getting the approved design from paper to delivery; ensuring that all the steps needed to make a building comply, are actually put in place.

They will be responsible for coordinating site inspection with building control, they will be responsible for ensuring all the construction materials and construction methods meet the required standards, they will collect all certification relating to build stages and they will hand over a detailed and complete set of documents to the owner on completion. Ultimately they will certificate the building as being ‘compliant’.

Assigned certifiers

This is a very positive step, but how will this new system serve fire protection and are the appropriate systems in place to support fire safety certification in Ireland?

The first area to examine would be the competence of those with the task of certificating the building; who are these Assigned Certifiers?

‘The following may be appointed and sign as the Assigned Certifier, provided they are competent in relation to the particular works involved:

(a) Architects that are on the register maintained by the RIAI under Part 3 of the Building Control Act 2007; or
(b) Building Surveyors that are on the register maintained by the SCSI under Part 5 of the Building Control Act 2007; or
(c) Chartered Engineers on the register maintained by Engineers Ireland under section 7 of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland (Charter Amendment) Act 1969’.

The assigned certifier therefore must be competent in inspecting and understanding all things fire; both active and passive systems, this is a very big ask considering the many other things they need to be experts in. Building regulations part A to M; energy efficiency, access, drainage, waste disposal, ventilation, sound, structure, materials, hygiene, site preparation, heat producing appliances and fire safety.

They will undoubtedly be professionals and they will work hard to assure compliance, but how can they know everything about all aspects of construction that they need to know? The reality is they may not be competent in all areas and the Assigned Certifier will need to rely on other forms of certification to assure compliance.

Described as ‘Ancillary Certification’ within the guidance these will include ‘competent technical and trade persons that install products’ and ‘the builder, sub-contractors, suppliers and manufacturers, both in relation to certifying design and construction, and also in relation to components or assemblies supplied for the works’.

Anyone familiar with Document B of the UK building regulations (Fire Safety) will understand how independent third party certification can be used by building control to assure fire compliance. Here in the UK, fire safety certification is well established for both product and installers, in Ireland however that mechanism for assuring fire safety work is done correctly using products that are fit for purpose is not very common at all.

Fortunately as the mechanisms for third-party certification are very much portable throughout Europe, the need in Ireland can be met through existing UK schemes such as FIRAS for installers and CERTIFIRE for products.

Third-party approvals

Although Warrington Certification have been actively engaging with fire specialists within Ireland in anticipation of the new regulations, it has been difficult to convince potential service providers that they will need appropriate third-party approvals.

As this represents a cultural change and the new regulations will not come into force until 1st March 2014 there is still a reluctance to take the first steps towards independent third party approvals.

However as the Assigned Certifier will ultimately take on significant liabilities when certificating buildings, there will be a need for them to seek the best assurances in all stages of the build process. I have absolutely no doubt they will be insisting on third party approvals wherever and whenever possible, in order to limit their liability.

Currently due to the lack of time left before the introduction of the new system and the lack of existing certificated contractors in Ireland; self-certification by onsite contractors may be the only evidence option available for the Assigned Certifier. The concern about that system however, is that BCAR 2014 was introduced because the old building regulations relied almost entirely on self-certification by the main developer; which as we know led to some very serious compliance issues during the boom building years in Ireland.

The question therefore has to be asked about how fire safety in new builds is to be assured when one of the most proven of methods is not readily available in Ireland yet? In anticipation Warrington Certification have been working in partnership with the Association for Specialist Fire Protection Ireland (ASFPI) to ensure competence and quality assurance are high on the fire agenda in Ireland.

During this year’s Facilities Management Exhibition at the RDS Dublin March 5th and 6th, the ASFPI will be hosting a day of dedicated seminars, aimed at answering the question; ‘How fire safe buildings can be assured in Ireland under the new regulations’.

David O’Reilly, Operations Officer for ASFP Ireland said this about the day: “The implementation of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (BCAR 2014) will introduce a new culture for many involved in the Irish construction industry. The Association of Specialist Fire Protection in Ireland (ASFPI) fully supports the new arrangements and our Fire Safety Seminar at FM Ireland on the 5th March will provide practical guidance and direction for those tasked with the design, installation and certification of passive fire protection in buildings.

“There will be particular focus on how the necessary competence can be acquired and demonstrated at all stages of the process, from the initial fire safety design to the maintenance of an occupied building.”

More details can be found here.

Training and ‘up-skilling’

In simple terms the building regulation amendments are coming in to force and with adequate support systems they could make the difference intended. Fire-safety training and ‘up-skilling’ of professionals and trades within the Irish building sector is a must.

The value of independent third-party certification in support of fire safety is widely accepted in the UK as best practice, however that system has taken years to develop; Ireland only has a few weeks to get the quality assurance building blocks in place and enable this new regulation to deliver what is needed – ‘Fire Safe Buildings’.

The risk Irish building control runs is one of returning to the default setting of ‘self-certifying’ what is not right, in order to get the building signed off and occupied. The Assigned Certifier role is one that can work and indeed needs to work.

Simon Ince will be speaking at the ASFPI seminar in Dublin on the 5th March, about the barriers to the delivery of fire-safe buildings.

Simon is also speaking twice at Firex International 2014 on 18th June:

12:00pm, Expertise & Guidance Theatre. Topic: Barriers That Are Preventing Fire Safe Buildings in the UK

12:30pm, Installers & Maintainers Theatre. Topic: Fire Risk Assessment Influencing Long Term Management of Fire Safety

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