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.

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 the 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

The 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, 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 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.”

On February 28th, a Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting will address responses to the consultation. The SIG is open to all members of our associationBecoming an FIA member could not be easier and with over 1000 members, we represent a significant portion of the industry and are a major fire safety training provider. By providing technical support, guidance, and opportunities for professional advancement via education and regulation, we represent the interests of our members.

Please contact our technical department requesting Will Lloyd if you are interested in attending. To contact Will, please email [email protected]