Building Regulations Fire Safety changes following Grenfell

Changes to building regulations will be coming into force on 21 January 2019. These are changes to “Approved Document B” of the Building Regulations which deals with fire safety in homes, flats, schools, colleges and offices, to clarify the role of desktop assessments in lieu of practical tests as follows:

  • Assessments in lieu of tests cannot be used in any circumstances for cladding and other external wall materials covered by the recent ban on combustible materials.
  • For other products, desktop assessments should only be used where it is clearly impractical or unfeasible to carry out tests; for example, products that are too large to fit in a test furnace. However, these would first need to have been tested on a smaller scale to obtain data on actual performance before undertaking a desktop assessment and an extended application of test evidence should subsequently be made.
  • Desktop assessments should only be carried out where sufficient and relevant test evidence is available to support them.
  • The test evidence which forms the basis for the assessment should be clearly referenced.
  • They should only be carried out by organisations with the necessary expertise, for example organisations listed as Notified Bodies in accordance with the European Construction Products Regulation or laboratories accredited by the UK’s National Accreditation Body. The organisations will have to demonstrate that they have the competence to do the job, including demonstrating that they have competent individuals within their organisation. To maintain accreditation, bodies will be periodically audited to check that they are maintaining their competence.
  • For those buildings outside the scope of the ban on combustible wall materials, any assessments in relation to fire resistance standard must be carried out in accordance with a more stringent new British Standard.

This follows on from the cladding ban regulations (the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018), which came into force on 21 December 2018. These ban the use of combustible materials in the external walls of all new residential buildings, boarding school dormitories, student accommodation, care homes and hospitals all above 18 metres. Existing buildings that undergo a material change of use that brings them into one of these categories are also captured by the new rules, and remedial work may be required in these cases. The new regulations also ban the use of desktop assessments in lieu of tests for cladding and external wall systems for such buildings.

These appear to be initial steps in a wider plan following the tragedy of Grenfell tower and the consequent Hackitt Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. The government has made a call for evidence to collect opinions on broader changes to the technical requirements relating to fire safety in the Building Regulations Approved Documents, closing on 1 March 2019.

There is an additional call for evidence entitled “Good practice on how residents and landlords work together to keep their home and building safe”, which closes on 12 February 2019. Residential and commercial landlords alike should consider participating in the calls for evidence and should pay close attention to the changes that have been made to date and to those to come.

Fenella Eddell is a solicitor in the property department at Barker Gotelee, Suffolk solicitors.

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