Speaking for the sector - April 2018
20 March 2018
As the Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety continues, Fire Sector Federation President Brian Robinson outlines the fundamental principles that should underpin future fire safety considerations
The Fire Sector Federation (FSF) was pleased to provide evidence to Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt and broadly endorsed the key findings and recommendations of the Interim Report and the outlined a direction of travel.
However, the Federation has some concerns about how the recommendations will be implemented and is calling for a clear path for legislative change and transparent arrangements for developing a regulatory system and appropriate guidance which ends industry fragmentation and results in improved levels of competence and responsibility.
Despite having been originally formed to represent the views of the entire fire sector in response to the Fire Futures review, launched in July 2010, by the then fire and rescue minister, Bob Neill MP, the FSF was not invited to take part directly in any of the working groups established to take the work forward. Since our membership includes a number of small but important specialist organisations, we feel that the Federation’s wide-ranging expertise is not being utilised and that the views of the smaller organisations that make up this key industry sector may not be heard.
While it is novel and welcome to see fire safety now being such a high priority for the wider construction sector, without the specific insight and technical expertise of the fire sector we remain unconvinced of the ability to develop the wide-ranging solutions required to solve this highly complex problem.
The Federation is perplexed by the apparent imposed confidentiality and lack of transparency that is in place in the Hackitt review process and concerned at the speed with which solutions are expected to be produced.
Nevertheless, the FSF believes it is important that it continues to work for the safety of the public from fire and has established a series of mirror working groups, formed from FSF members to ensure we can provide our best advice in the most constructive way. These groups will continue to develop a response to the issues under discussion within the Review and will provide our solutions once the outcomes of the review process are released.
With an issue as complex as fire safety in the built environment we feel it is important to establish some guiding principles which will ensure a coordinated approach to developing solutions. As well as the 13 recommendations set out in the FSF’s response to Dame Judith’s call for evidence, the Federation will advocate recognition of six fundamental principles that need to be taken together and observed as a basic Code of Practice to underpin future fire safety considerations.
Some key areas on which we have been focusing our energies are in defining benchmarks and standards for key fire safety concepts, including risk; competency; what constitutes a ‘suitable and sufficient’ fire risk assessment; and the combustibility concept and associated product and system testing. We believe that there should be greater consideration of not just ignition and surface spread of flame but also the overall ability of a material used in construction to sustain fire.
Our view is that a greater element of building resilience must be introduced into the core regulatory guidance and we will be assessing how current guidance can better reflect the risk profile of today's urban built environment, as well as looking at develop new guidelines and guidance on what to consider during the refurbishment and modernisation of existing buildings.
The Federation brings together wide ranging expertise and experience from across the UK fire sector in prevention, protection and operational response and offers balanced opinion. With its extensive membership across the various stakeholder groups, the Federation has brought together leading UK expertise for an integrated and effective approach to holistic fire safety. As a result we believe that we can continue to deliver insight and expertise into the review process in the hope that we can develop a fire safety solution appropriate for all and that ensures a tragedy such as Grenfell can never happen again.
Brian Robinson is president of the Fire Sector Federation. For more information, visit www.firesectorfederation.co.uk