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Report: UK's Hackitt Responds on Fire Safety

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

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The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has launched a fourth consultation on improving fire and structural safety of high-rise housing since engineer Dame Judith Hackitt released her “Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.”

The new consultation, “Building a Safer Future,” highlights proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system. The consultation arrives just days before the two-year anniversary of London's Grenfell Tower fire and plans to run until July 31.

About the Grenfell Tower Fire

On June 14, 2017, Grenfell Tower—a 24-story, 120-home apartment building—caught fire and resulted in the death of 72 people. The building had recently undergone a $12.73 million renovation that was completed in the spring of 2016 and is largely believed to be responsible for why the fire spread so quickly.

At that time, the building was refurbished with a system of polyester powder-coated aluminum rain-screen panels, insulated exterior cladding and double-glazed windows, as well as a communal heating system.

Natalie Oxford, CC-SA-BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On June 14, 2017, Grenfell Tower—a 24-story, 120-home apartment building—caught fire and resulted in the death of 72 people.

After the fire, a criminal investigation was opened by the Metropolitan Police Service.

In April of 2018, new investigations revealed that the cladding fitted on the Grenfell Tower had been downgraded before it was installed on the London high-rise. According to tests that BBC News uncovered from 2014 and 2015, a zinc cladding had originally been specified for the tower, but another brand was substituted for a savings of roughly $388,700.

The following month, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged $517.9 million to cover the replacement of unsafe cladding for social housing blocks. Privately owned towers were left to figure out the replacements on their own, however.

Many property owners passed the renovation charges to residents, which in some cases cost them thousands of dollars to make their homes safe again. A year later, in May 2019, May announced that the government would be picking up much of the tab for the private tower cladding replacements as well, at a cost of roughly 200 million pouds ($258.9 million).

Commissioning a New Fire-Safety System

The month following the tragedy, the U.K. began testing cladding systems, having more than 80 towers fail revamped fire tests.

As a result of the failures, officials announced that Hackitt would be conducting an independent review of building regulations and fire safety. The review planned to examine the regulatory system around design, construction and management of buildings in relation to fire safety; compliance and enforcement of issues; and international regulation and experience.

By the end of August, guidelines of Hackitt’s Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety had been published. According to the release, the purpose of the independent investigation was two-fold: ensuring that regulatory systems are robust enough for the future, and to ensure that current buildings remain safe for residents.

On Dec. 18 of the same year, Hackitt gave the review and her preliminary report to Parliament, calling for a complete overhaul of the construction industry, as the report detailed concerns with privatization of inspections and a lack of knowledge among local authorities.

Hackitt says that the way regulations are written is causing a problem. Partly because there are too many opportunities for loopholes and shortcuts, she says, but also because many are made to be more complex then they need to be, resulting in a lack of understanding on how to enforce—or even look for—certain requirements.

She also called for an end to cost-cutting on materials, taking a stance just short of banning materials altogether (a call that brought out reactions of anger among the Royal institute of British Architects, some politicians and survivors). Hackitt also announced that a final report would be issued in the spring.

By May 2018 the updated and highly anticipated government review of building regulations was released. The report went on to say that “Restricting or prohibiting certain practices will not address the root causes,” and thus created a “race to the bottom,” in which projects simply had the goal of being completed the quickest and the cheapest, and the report recommended a new standards regulator as the center piece for a reformed system.

The official recommendation was for a new regulator called the “Joint Competent Authority,” which should be made up of local building officials, fire and rescue officials and health and safety officials. The key, though, is that it should be independent of building owners and it will approve designs prior to construction.

ChiralJon, CC-SA-BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The month following the tragedy, the U.K. began testing cladding systems, having more than 80 towers fail revamped fire tests.

However, in an interview after the report was released, Hackitt said she would support a ban of materials if it was part of addressing the larger problem.

“This is most definitely not just a question of the specification of cladding systems but of an industry that has not reflected and learned for itself, nor looked to other sectors,” the report said.

In September, RIBA launched its own consultation in a new Plan of Work for Fire Safety. RIBA claims that the plan answers both the demand for change in building regulations and greater transparency, accountability and collaboration. A draft of the document was up for consultation until Oct. 15.

At the end of December, the U.K. announced that it would be adopting all 53 recommendations made by Hackitt’s post-Grenfell Tower fire review of building regulations in its aim to make the construction industry “more responsible.”

As a result, the creation of a Joint Regulators’ Group was made, which involved the Health Safety Executive, Local Authority Building Control, the Fire and Rescue Services and the Local Government Association.

The plan arrived about two months after government officials announced it was banning the use of combustible materials in the exterior walls of new residential buildings 18 meters and taller, a move that was not recommended in the review and the omission of which was harshly criticized by industry professionals.

What’s Happening Now

In adopting and analyzing Hackitt’s recommendations, the U.K government has released a revised Implementation Plan, which proposes a stronger voice for residents of high-rise buildings and fundamental reform of building safety requirements.

Additionally, the proposed regulatory changes have been revised to include residential buildings over 18 meters (about 59 feet) tall, rather than a vague “10 stories” form of measurement. However, the new fire-safety rules will not apply to other high-risk buildings such as hospitals, schools, care homes and prisons.

The consultation is open to everyone, including individuals from the construction industry, fire safety sector, public and private sectors, building owners and residents. All are encouraged to submit their views.

Specifically, the consultation is seeking views on the following criteria within the plan:

  • The scope of the new regime;
  • The concept of dutyholders who have clear responsibilities throughout a building’s design, construction and occupation;
  • Giving residents a stronger voice in the system and ensuring their concerns are never ignored;
  • Plans for a new building safety regulator to provide oversight of the new building safety regulatory regime; and
  • Plans for a new building safety regulator to provide oversight of the new building safety regulatory regime.

The Home Office has also launched a call for evidence on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The call for evidence is the first part of a process to ensure that the Fire Safety Order is fit for purpose for all buildings it regulates.

Responses to the “Building a Safer Future: Proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system” consultation are due no later than July 31.

   

Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Building codes; Building facades; Building owners; Certifications and standards; Cladding; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Consultants; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Fatalities; Fire; Fireproofing; Good Technical Practice; Government; Health and safety; Latin America; North America; PaintSquare App - Commercial; Regulations; Residential; Safety; Z-Continents

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