Since the Grenfell Tower fire, the government has been working on reforms to the fire safety standards to ensure that residents of high-rise buildings feel safe in their homes. An independent inquiry of the Grenfell Tower fire was commissioned, the findings of which have been used to draft the new Fire Safety Bill. The Bill was recently passed in the House of Commons, following amendments tabled from the House of Lords. Here are the key takeaways for specifiers of external walls, as mentioned in the draft Fire Safety Bill:
Banning of Aluminium Composite Material from the External Wall Systems of High-Rise Buildings
Aluminium Composite Material has been used in the external wall systems of buildings all over the UK. This ACM cladding was identified as the main culprit for the tragic Grenfell Tower fire. The Fire Safety Bill bans the use of such combustible ACM cladding in high-rise residential buildings.
Banning of Combustible Material from the External Wall Systems of High-Rise Buildings
Apart from the ACM cladding, other kinds of combustible material are also banned on the exterior walls of buildings, including balconies, doors and windows. This means that everything used in the external wall systems of buildings should be made from materials that are classified as non-combustible.
Appointment of The New Building Safety Regulator
The Fire Safety Bill introduced the role of a building safety regulator who would be responsible for enforcing fire safety standards and introducing better safety systems in the industry. The building safety regulator would also oversee the way the landlords, architects and developers function and introduce systems where required. The regulator would also have the power to take action against those found in violation of the standards. Responsible parties could be faced with imprisonment and unlimited fines based on recommendations made by the new building safety regulator.
Regulation of Construction Products
The government has set up the Building Products Regulator division as a part of the Office for Product Safety & Standards, within the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, with the aim of regulating the industry and upholding the standards of products used in construction. The government has approved an initial £10m to help the division get set up. This division will work closely with local authorities and the building safety regulator to enforce the standards mentioned in the Fire Safety Bill.
Additionally, the government has also commissioned an independent review to test the weaknesses in the existing testing regimes currently in use for various construction products. This step will be crucial in identifying and dealing with loopholes in the systems, reducing the chances of abuse of the testing system. Details of this study are expected later this year.
Introduction of a Golden Thread of Information
The Bill talks about the introduction of a golden thread of information industry-wide. This golden thread is a live digital document with the most accurate, relevant and up-to-date information about the building data, created and maintained through the lifecycle of the building. This building record will be made accessible to every key stakeholder of the building and aims to promote transparency in the industry.
The golden thread of information will also include the critical Fire and Emergency File (FEF) that will hold details of all the most important fire safety information on the building. It will be set up right from the initial stages of the design and construction phases and maintained throughout. Through the golden thread of information, all relevant data will be updated and stored, giving access to data such as weak points and problems that arise in the construction process.