21 December 2017
Her team have obviously put an enormous amount of work into understanding the current fire safety regime and coming up with recommendations on potential changes. While the focus of the report is England and Wales, the FIA notes that many of the general points raised will be relevant to the Building Regulations and fire safety regime under the control of the devolved administrations.
One of the key points raised in the report is the lack of 3rd party checks of competence within many parts of the fire industry, all the way from design through to installation. As an example, currently, whilst the Institution of Fire Engineers offers Chartered status to fire engineers, only a small minority of the people who advertise themselves as ‘fire engineers’ have that (or a comparable) qualification. Likewise, third party certification schemes are available for installers of passive fire protection systems, but the take-up of those schemes within the industry is by no means comprehensive.
This is a key area that the FIA has been championing for a long time, with 3rd party certification and/or employment of chartered fire engineers being a requirement for FIA membership. The new qualifications on fire alarm system design, installation, commissioning and maintenance that FIA are introducing will also be a major step forward in this area, although we will be currently reliant on the industry adopting those qualifications.
The Hackitt's Report recommends that the relevant professional bodies coordinate to address competency and the FIA will be heavily involved in that process.
Another issue identified in the Hackitt's Report is in relation to the fire testing, certification and marketing of construction products. Again, the FIA would entirely agree on this issue. Technical literature produced by manufacturers describing the fire performance of their products is often misleading and regularly does not give the information needed to confirm whether it is appropriate for use in particular situations. Third party certification is available, but again, the take-up within the industry is variable.
In relation to the Building Control Bodies (including Approved Inspectors) the Hackitt's Report highlights concerns in a number of areas, including the potential risk that commercial issues may influence technical judgements. The FIA would agree that this is an area that needs to be addressed, and the work that the FIA have carried out in the past to help with ensuring appropriate separation between Approved Inspectors and design companies (where they are part of a larger group company) would be part of that.
The Hackitt's Report includes a focus on the confusing legislative situation within blocks of flats, where the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and the Housing Act 2004 both apply, but to different parts of the building and with different enforcement regimes. That is an issue which needs to be addressed in order to give a clear regulatory framework to maintain high standards of fire safety for the building as a whole, not just component parts of it.
Another key topic mentioned is the lack of control of the materials actually used on site, with product substitution being a very common occurrence. This can vary project by project, but FIA members are regularly surprised by the fact that even ‘As Built’ drawings and specifications regularly do not reflect the materials that were actually used. This means that any information that may have been passed to the end user of the building would often not accurately describe how the building was actually built.
One of the overriding issues raised within the Hackitt's Report is that the industry simply cannot continue this way. There is no quick and simple way to fix these problems and they will require a change in mindset within the industry as a whole. The FIA entirely agree with that view and will enthusiastically support efforts to reform the industry to ensure that tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire never happen again.