Building regulations for safety

Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, attention is rightly focused on the regulations surrounding fire safety. Ensuring that these are fit for purpose to protect both people and property is a top priority. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) recently called for a change to the regulations and a clearer framework of responsibility for all those in the protection of buildings from fire.

Under the current framework, fire safety falls under a number of different areas including the Building Regulations and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The Grenfell Tower incident highlights that construction and refurbishment methods and materials have changed significantly in the last decade, it’s time for a wholesale review of these regulations.

The Fire Protection Association’s (FPA) submission into the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Terms of References supports the need for immediate review of the legislative framework, finding issues with both of the main pieces of regulation.

With the Building Regulations, the concern is that they, together with the associated fire safety guidance, may be inadequate due to the increased use of combustible materials in buildings. Over time, more of these materials and different methods of construction are being adopted without a proper understanding of how they affect the fire risk.

This approach taken in the Building Regulations has also allowed some complacency to creep in. As an example, the use of the term ‘limited combustibility’ can be misleading, especially in higher risk occupancies such as social housing, hospitals and hotels. A guarantee of ‘evacuation before collapse’ might be an aspect of compliance but viewing this as the only measure needed could be preventing higher levels of protection being used on buildings.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 also comes in for criticism. In particular the adequacy of the qualifications of those deemed competent; especially the person carrying out the fire risk assessment.

Given that many of the shortcomings stem from changes in construction materials and methods, strengthening the Building Regulations is a logical response. By incorporating a number of fire safety measures into these regulations, it would lead to improvements in the safety of the building, enhancing protection for the occupants.

These measures could include improving the process for approval of methods of construction so the scope includes fire ingress; determining whether a particular material or method can be used in higher risk occupancies; and establishing an expert review panel to ensure new materials and methodologies are fully understood before they can be used in construction.

Modern methods of construction is a subject that insurers have been aware of for some time. It’s a complicated subject and it’s not uncommon for building owners or tenants to be unaware of the construction details of their premises or the levels of combustibility. It is however important that details of construction are understood and fully disclosed by customers to allow insurers to appropriately assess risk, provide appropriate risk management advice, and to avoid any later potential issues with fair presentation of risk.

Amending the Building Regulations to take into account today’s construction methods and materials would benefit all parties. As well as providing greater clarity for the owners of these properties and those involved in their construction, by constructing safer buildings, those living in them will be safer too.

Source: Allianz Insurance Plc