With effect from 1st June 2022, changes have been made to fire safety guidance and the building regulations to help ensure enhanced safety for taller buildings in the UK, as part of a broader package of UK Government reforms.
The changes have been implemented as a means of providing clearer fire safety rules for the design and construction of residential developments. They are geared towards satisfying recommendations from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, and will help ensure more information is available to fire and rescue services.
What exact changes have been put in place?
Among the new changes are the following:
- All new residential buildings with a height of more than 11 metres will now be required to include a Secure Information Box that, in the event of a fire, will enable fire and rescue services to access key details about a building
- New residential developments with a height of more than 18 metres will also need to incorporate an Evacuation Alert System to help fire and rescue services let residents know about any change in evacuation strategy while an incident is unfolding
- More stringent standards for external wall materials on new medium-sized blocks of flats. This follows the Government’s previous confirmation of a ban on the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of new blocks of flats in England that are over 18 metres, in addition to hospitals, student accommodation and dormitories in boarding schools. As a consequence of the regulatory updates, this ban now applies to new hotels, hostels, and boarding houses of the same height
- There is also now a ban on the use of Metal Composite Material (MCM) panels with unmodified polyethylene (PE) core on all new buildings, regardless of their height
- New statutory guidance will also be put in place to restrict the combustibility of materials used in and on the external walls of buildings that are between 11 metres and 18 metres tall. This will allow for lower-risk developments at these heights to satisfy the required safety standards, while providing flexibility to designers and developers to use environmentally friendly materials.
The above are not the only regulatory updates that have been put forward. Others include elements of solar shading devices being included within the ban’s scope; the amendment of the list of materials exempt from the ban to include fibre optic cables and insulation materials 300mm from ground level; and updating the requirement of the ban to refer to the latest version of the British Standard classification for materials used on high-rise residential buildings.
The Government also said it was looking to temporarily exempt cavity trays, and to amend the requirements for material change of use in buildings.
How will the Fire Safety Order interact with the new regime for high-rise buildings?
On 28th April 2022, the Building Safety Act 2022 received Royal Assent. The Act provides for a new, more stringent safety regulatory regime for higher-risk buildings. As part of the new regime, duties are placed upon an Accountable Person (AP) responsible for ensuring building safety.
Included in the Act is a Fire Safety clause that amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – also known as ‘the FSO’ – to strengthen fire safety requirements for non-domestic premises which include the common parts of high-rise residential buildings subject to the new regime. The FSO sets out that fire safety duties are held by the Responsible Person (RP) who has control of the given premises.
In the case of lower-rise residential buildings – those that are less than 18 metres in height or that have fewer than seven storeys – which are outside of the provisions of the Building Safety Act for higher-risk structures, the strengthened FSO and the Housing Act 2004 will continue to regulate the manner in which standards are enforced to manage residents’ overall safety.
The Government published a factsheet in April, in which it stated that cross-government work would take place to “ensure that the FSO proportionately aligns with the new building safety regime to protect residents’ safety in high-rise residential buildings.”
It was further stated in this document that when operating in a high-risk building, if the Responsible Person is also the Accountable Person, they will be required to register with the new Building Safety Regulator, and should be able to combine some of their regulated activities to ensure their compliance with both regimes.
In the event, however, of the Responsible Person not being the Accountable Person, they will be solely subject to the requirements of the FSO. There will still be a requirement, though, for the Responsible Person to cooperate with the Accountable Person(s) to support a whole-system approach to managing fire safety in the given building by coordinating their regulated activities, at the same time as meeting their respective obligations.
All in all, with regard to how the FSO interacts with the new and more stringent building safety regime for higher-risk buildings, the common parts and any other non-residential part of high-rise residential buildings will continue to be subject to the FSO and the fire safety inspection regime of the local Fire and Rescue Authority.
However, these parts will see some regulatory ‘overlap’, as the building as a whole will be subject to the new regime and enforcement by the new Building Safety Regulator.
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