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ASFP issues detailed response to pre-legislative consultation on Building Safety Bill

02 October 2020

THE ASSOCIATION for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) has submitted evidence to the pre-legislative consultation on the Building Safety Bill. While broadly welcoming the Bill as an important step forward in the implementation of Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Building a Safer Future’ report, the ASFP outlines a number of concerns relating to how the Bill will ensure appropriate testing, installation and ongoing market surveillance of safety critical products and systems.

The ASFP encourages the move to increase the rigour of construction products-focused regulation for safety critical products. The organisation has advocated mandatory third party certification of passive fire protection products for many years now and recognises that this legislation will eventually make that a reality. However, the Association harbours concerns about the proposed product testing regime, primarily around how products with European/UK Technical Assessments (ETAs/UKTAs) will be treated.

The draft text of the Bill gives products with a UK Technical Assessment exemption from any ‘Safety Critical’ status, a move which the ASFP believes could potentially lead to a loophole. Since ETAs and UKTAs are not mandatory, and there are no minimum requirements for properties within scope of the technical assessment, the ASFP recommends that “product families” must be defined, along with an appropriate level of testing.

The Association believes that all products within a product family should be tested, assessed and certified based upon individual tests of products and systems to ensure that products cannot gain entrance into the marketplace based upon tests conducted by one manufacturer.

Significant concern

The apparent lack of legislation covering the installers of safety-critical products and systems is a significant concern for the ASFP. While the current Building Safety Bill text suggests that installers will have to meet a future requirement for a competence-based scheme, the ASFP considers this is an inadequate level of response and is calling for some form of regulation of installers.

The ASFP, which has long called for mandatory third party certification of installers of passive fire protection products, recommends that the Government mandate a body to establish the competence levels required within the construction industry and to oversee their implementation.

Finally, the ASFP highlights the historical challenges of market surveillance under the European Construction Products Regulation (CPR) system, noting that EU Member State authorities charged with market surveillance under the CPR have not had the necessary skills and experience. Having been informed that a new product regulator would be created in the UK, possibly under the remit of the Office of Product Safety and Standards, the Association notes that the draft Building Safety Bill does not clearly identify this.

The text within the Bill states that market surveillance tasks are to be carried out by “relevant authorities” and identifies a number of possible ones, generally under the auspices of local authorities. The ASFP believes such a structure would be unable to address all of the complex issues related to construction products testing, assessment, certification and installation and calls for the introduction of a regulator at the national level.

Devil’s in the detail

Commenting on the Association’s response to the consultation, ASFP CEO Niall Rowan (pictured) stated: “The Building Safety Bill seems to lay the path and take the first tentative steps towards implementing most of the recommendations from the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report. The devil, however, is in the detail of how this is followed up. Although this Bill makes the primary enabling legislation, giving the necessary powers, we still need to see how the secondary legislation will be written and implemented to ensure that all the recommendations are met.”

Rowan continued: “We believe the products and systems manufactured and installed by our members come fairly and squarely within any definition of ‘safety-critical’. We have a number of concerns with regards to the application of the legislation to the installation, testing and market surveillance of these ‘safety-critical’ products and wish to make certain representations to ensure the correct outcome regarding the provisions for passive fire protection products and systems within the Building Safety Bill.”