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RIBA demands immediate review of fire safety in building regulations


The RIBA has urged the government to begin immediately its much-delayed review of Approved Document B on fire safety in the building regulations following the Grenfell Tower fire 

The institute is demanding an urgent re-examination of the regulations, implementing the review promised four years ago by the secretary of state in response to the coroner’s inquest into the deaths resulting from the 2009 fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell.

The call is spelled out in a detailed document outlining the RIBA’s guidance for members in response to last week’s disaster, which lists a number of key concerns raised by architects for a ‘number of years’ including the ‘virtual disappearance’ of the clerk of works to oversee work.

The RIBA said it also had serious worries over building procurement, which it claimed had developed to the point where the lead designer was no longer responsible for the oversight of the design, or the specification of materials from start to finish of the project.

The institute added that design responsibility had often been ‘transferred to the contractor and subcontractors’, with ‘no single point of responsibility’.

In respect of the public inquiry, which the RIBA demanded in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and which has since been confirmed by prime minister Theresa May, the institute said it would be calling on its members to provide technical advice.

In addition, the institute urged the government to revisit its recent review of Building Bulletin (BB) 100 and, in particular, consider making sprinklers a requirement in all new schools.

Last July, the Department for Education issued a final draft document for a new version of BB100, in which it had removed the expectation that all new schools should have sprinkler systems fitted.

In a letter dated August 2016 to the secretary of state for education, Justine Greening, the Fire Brigades Union criticised the Department for Education’s decision to remove its insistence on sprinklers as ‘wrong’, adding that its logic was ‘flawed’. 

‘There is little doubt that sprinklers implemented within a balanced range of fire protection and fire risk management measures are effective,’ the letter read. 

Speaking to the Observer at the weekend, Ronnie King, formerly the chief fire officer and now honorary secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety, said: ‘Previously [the Department for Education] said automatic fire sprinklers would be installed in all new schools except for a very few low-risk schools.

’They then issued revised guidance, removing the requirement for sprinklers in all new schools.’

RIBA’s concerns over building regulations and procurement in the UK

  • Delays to the review of Approved Document B, particularly with regard to the relationship of the Building Regulations to changing approaches in the design and construction of the external envelopes of buildings.
  • An Approved Document, which together with related British Standards, provides a very comprehensive but highly complicated regulatory framework.
  • The impact of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, in particular the introduction of a regime of fire risk self-assessment and the repeal of fire certificate legislation with oversight by the local fire authority.
  • Developments in building procurement approaches which mean that the Lead Designer (architect or engineer) is no longer responsible for oversight of the design and the specification of materials and products from inception to completion of the project, with design responsibility often transferred to the contractor and sub-contractors, and no single point of responsibility.
  • The virtual disappearance of the role of the clerk of works or site architect and the loss of independent oversight of construction and workmanship on behalf of the client.

Readers' comments (3)

  • On the subject of construction quality control, the presence of a tough, experienced, independent minded clerk of works, with eyes in the back of his head, is (was?) just as effective a deterrent to cowboy contractors as a sea-launched nuclear missile capability is to rogue dictatorships.

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  • Ah!!! So it's already started - blame the contractor; far more to the point would be to investigate the RIBA and the BRE. This problem has been known for years. Where were they??? Too busy promoting hare-brained eco projects and neglecting the shortcomings of the design profession I would say. When did they last discipline any member for gross incompetence?? Oxley Woods and Dartington Primary School for a start. Oh! what about those seventeen schools in Scotland? Heard the spokesman for the architects blame it on bankers and lawyers!!
    Until UK architects get better education in the basics of sound construction the industry will continue to flounder.
    I will repeat my previous suggestion: Ditch the Building Regulations and adopt the IBC (International Building Code)

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  • Architects are disciplined every week for shoddy practice. I suggest you look up the ARB disciplinary process. Contractors, on the other hand, are accountable to no-one but Mammon. This country is overrun with cowboy firms. This was, in part, a failure of final specification when cheaper materials are often 'value engineered' into the design. It's been going on for centuries. It's Time the whole building industry took responsibility. Yes, where has the Clerk of Works disappeared to? Why are Architects usually dropped after Planning permission? Better education? It's about time British contractors were better regulated and trained. They might end up being as good as their Polish counterparts!

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