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Construction sector wants expert fire involvement

23 October 2018

A NEW report from construction industry professionals has called for closer involvement of fire safety experts during construction projects.

The research was conducted for UK Construction Week (UKCW) and received detailed responses from respondents across all parts of the construction industry.

Among a wide range of changes, respondents to the research are most likely themselves to have implemented reviews of all their current project designs and specifications, to have commissioned additional fire risk assessments on projects, and to have increased training on fire safety.

Indeed, when asked about their top three preferred changes to transform fire safety across all buildings (not just high-rise blocks or other high-risk buildings), the industry is not simply counting on new regulations. That comes sixth on the list of their priorities.

The first choice is greater involvement of an architect, Clerk of Works, fire engineer, the fire and rescue service itself or other professional adviser who would do a full fire risk assessment and ensure better design and specification. Many called for the end of contractor-led ‘Design and Build’ type contracts.

A close second is a change in the choice and attention given to materials being specified and used on all buildings, including many supporting the ban on combustible materials in exposed areas of a building, in particular cladding or insulation.

Third choice is the installation and regular maintenance of sprinklers and other active fire detection and suppression equipment into all buildings.

The UKCW research shows that confidence among construction industry professionals that, post-Grenfell, the UK’s approach to fire safety in all buildings will now change for the better, currently stands at 6 out of 10.

Contractors, specialist sub-contractors and building products suppliers are marginally more confident than other groups (with an average confidence score of 7 out of 10).

Respondents also said they have most often seen changes in the products used for cladding, insulation and fire doors, as well as more demands for new fire testing of products. They also report changes to the way procurement policies, tenders and contract terms deal with fire safety issues and responsibilities.

While many of the respondents are monitoring government advice and waiting for the outcome of a current review of Building Regulations, they are critical of the time being taken to clarify new requirements since the fire and the subsequent publication of the Hackitt Review in May 2018.

Wilkinson Construction Consultants managing director Geoff Wilkinson said: “It is very encouraging to see the industry getting on with it, despite the hiatus from Government. But what’s needed is an industry-wide coordinated response.

“The ban on combustible materials is long overdue. We need to be told why it has taken over a year to get to this point when a very simple changing of regulatory guidance could have achieved the same thing in days.”