The Northern Ireland Department of Finance has revealed proposals to enhance fire safety standards.

In a bid to strengthen fire safety across Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Department of Finance has recently introduced a set of comprehensive proposals. These ambitious plans aim to revolutionise the way fire safety is managed in buildings, with a particular focus on enhancing the protection of high-risk residential properties.

One key aspect of these proposals involves the provision of detailed fire safety information to building owners and occupiers. This information, to be supplied at the handover stage of a building, is intended to provide a clear understanding of the fire safety measures integrated into the structure and the underlying design assumptions.

The primary objective here is to bridge the gap between fire safety standards during design, construction, occupation, and enforcement throughout a building's lifespan. Proposed regulation 37A seeks to make it a legal requirement for building owners or occupiers to have access to this vital "as built" fire safety information.

With this information readily available, those responsible for fire safety duties in relevant premises can understand and implement the building's fire safety strategy, maintain fire safety systems within the building and conduct effective fire risk assessments of the premises.

Another significant proposal is the requirement for automatic fire suppression systems in specific higher risk residential buildings. This mandate would apply to new constructions and buildings subject to material changes of use. In the case of buildings containing flats, a trigger height of more than 11 meters has been proposed.

This aligns with industry recommendations made in 2019, which called for sprinkler systems in new and converted residential buildings, hotels, hospitals, student accommodations, schools, and care home structures exceeding 11 meters in height.

Furthermore, the consultation document also advocates for the installation of sprinkler systems in care homes, nursing homes, children's homes, and family resident centres. Citing research conducted by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), highlights the clear benefits of sprinkler installations in these facilities.

In addition, the consultation proposes that purpose-built student residences with a storey more than 11 meters above ground level should also be equipped with automatic fire suppression systems. This move is deemed the most efficient way to safeguard lives and property in the student sector.

The proposed changes in these regulations also acknowledge recent advancements in construction standards and sprinkler technology, notably referring to BS 9251, a code of practice for sprinkler systems in residential and domestic occupancies. Additionally, research conducted across various regions of the UK on the effectiveness of sprinklers in different types of premises and their cost-effectiveness has been taken into account.

These regulations aim to bring Northern Ireland in line with other jurisdictions by making automatic fire suppression systems mandatory through building regulations.

To complement these proposed regulatory changes, the government has published guidance to be incorporated into Technical Booklet E. This guidance covers various aspects, including the installation of smoke alarms and heat detectors in habitable rooms and kitchens. It also addresses smoke ventilation, firefighting shafts, fire vehicle access, fire mains, evacuation alert systems, wayfinding signage, and secure premises information boxes.

The consultation period for these proposals concluded on 25th September 2023, and the government is expected to provide its response in due course. These potential changes represent a significant step forward in enhancing fire safety measures across Northern Ireland, ensuring safer and more resilient buildings for all.

View the SOURCE here.

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