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Fire safety review: Building Regulations are ‘not fit for purpose’

1200px grenfell tower fire (wider view)

An interim report into the review of building regulations, carried out in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, has concluded that they are ‘not fit for purpose’

The report by Judith Hackitt found that a ’universal shift in culture’ is needed to bring about ’true and lasting change’, describing the publication as a ’call to action for an entire industry’.

Hackitt, who is an engineer and chair of manufacturing trade body EEF, was commissioned by the government to carry out an independent review of the building regulations and fire safety in July following the Grenfell Tower fire. A final report is due to be published in spring next year. 

The 121-page interim report, published this morning (18 December), identifies six broad areas for change, including the need for a ’golden thread’ for high-rise buildings, which would record and review the ’original design intent and any subsequent changes or refurbishment’.

The report also concludes that there is a need to ’raise levels of competence and establish formal accreditation’ for those involved in fire safety regarding the design, construction and inspection of tall buildings.

It adds that the ’roles and responsibilities’ for ensuring buildings are safe must be clarified; the rules for constructing high-rise buildings safely need to be ’more risk-based and proportionate’; and there must be a ’clear, quick and effective’ route for residents’ concerns to be addressed.

Commenting on her interim report, Hackitt said: ’The current system is highly complex and there is confusion about the roles and responsibilities at each stage. In many areas there is a lack of competence and accreditation.

’While this does not mean all buildings are unsafe, it does mean we need to build a more effective system for the future.’

In many areas there is a lack of competence and accreditation

The former chair of the UK Health and Safety Executive also called on the construction building owners, regulators and government to ’come together to identify how to overcome these shortcomings’. She said there is a need to ‘rebuild’ trust with residents of tall buildings. 

Writing in the report, Hackitt says: ’As the review has progressed, it has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.’

She later adds: ’Change control and quality assurance are poor throughout the process. What is initially designed is not what is being built, and quality assurance of materials and people is seriously lacking.

’I have been shocked by some of the practices I have heard about and I am convinced of the need for a new intelligent system of regulation and enforcement for high-rise and complex buildings which will encourage everyone to do the right thing and will hold to account those who try to cut corners.’

I have been shocked by some of the practices I have heard about

Hackitt goes on to argue that, although changes in the regulatory system are needed, there is also a requirement to ’change the culture away from one of doing the minimum required for compliance, to one of taking ownership and responsibility for delivering a safe system throughout the life-cycle of a building’.

She says her goal is to create a ’robust overall system’ and a ’process that ensures there is effective oversight of materials, people and installation’.

Elsewhere, the document found that there is a requirement for building products to be adequately tested and certified, as well as a need to ensure these materials are correctly installed. 

Hackitt will go before ministers this afternoon to discuss the findings of the interim report. 

The terms of reference for the review of the building regulations were published in August, and were criticised by the RIBA for not examining the ‘overall regulatory and procurement context’ for the UK construction industry. The AJ has contacted the RIBA for comment.


Readers' comments (5)

  • Chris Roche

    The RIBA should seize on this opportunity and demand a review of the Planning system also to ensure approved schemes are delivered without compromise to safety, security, or quality. The Architect responsible for the original design should ensure the scheme as approved can satisfy Building Regulations, in general terms, and where there is clear intent for the original architect to be replaced post planning then adequate renumeration agreed both for the release of Design Copyright, and for the loss of profit on subsequent stages of the development process. This would improve standards, and should lead to appropriate levels of reward for architects contingent upon the design being deliverable without change or compromise. If the profession's leadership, the RIBA fails to grasp the opportunity they run the risk as with Cost Management, and Project Management, that other allied professionals, be they engineers or surveyors, step in to assume responsibility for all things technical, and architects are left to choose the colour scheme.

    Chris Roche / Founder 11.04 Architects

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  • Building regulation are out of date there is no regulation regarding smoke, considering that the majority of Insulation material installed in Buildings are dangerous when ignited, after Grenfell disaster I carried out simple fire tests on all Multi Foil products being sold throughout the UK and Europe the results are frighten, in 2004 a report was published warning about the quality of Insulation and regulations,it concluded by saying ( will it take someone to die before building control takes notice) .still no one is taking any notice LABC , Fire service, Labour party have all seen my test reports, They do not know how to handle this problem or want to get involved,
    I have the fire test results carried out on Multi Foil and the 2014 report, anyone want to see these contact me www.j.clements@kdninsulation.com

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  • Geoff Williams

    The report has a significant impact but not unexpected in content. Short comings in the enforcement of fire standard and codes obviously play an important part driven by the old adage COST. This is a particularly important feature in the area of electrical systems where fire performance, [ fireproof ] cabling needs closer examination. There are many different cables in the market claiming fire performance characteristics but are they fit for purpose? It is essential that electrical standards and codes form part of the building regulations.

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  • OK! OK! OK!! So I shall yet again, repeat my assertion that the simplest remedy for ensuring safety and integrity in new buildings would to ditch the dog's breakfast that the Building Regulations have become, and replace them with the widely used and highly respected International Building Code. (IBC)
    The focus of the investigation rightly homes in on the combustibility of the cladding materials. More importantly, as I see it, is the flue created by the air gap (rainscreen) between the main structure and the insulation. In order for that chimney to be closed, an expanding caulk, (intumescent seal) activated only after a fire has started, is relied upon to protect lives and property. Quite obviously, in the Grenfell tragedy, theory stumbled to reality.
    The dangers of rainscreen cladding have been known for years, the designers and fire prevention professionals must be held to account.
    I would submit that the RIBA should not be considered as a responsible body, and be permitted no input at the enquiry. It has grossly soiled itself. Heads must roll.

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  • Rainscreen cladding has been used as a very effective envelope system in Canada for decades - started in the 1960s. The problem is in the lack of proper detailing and fire stopping in the Grenfell Tower. The cavity was far wider than is normally required to prevent rain penetration, allow the cavity to drain and achieve air pressure equalization as intended. UK architects need to look outside of their country to source well researched details, not invent them as if they were *new*.

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