• International Workplace
  • 18 July 2017

Fire safety: RIBA calls for immediate review of Building Regulations

Following the devastating and tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has called for the immediate commencement of the delayed formal review of Building Regulations Approved Document B; a review recommended by the Coroner after the inquest into the deaths resulting from the 2009 fire at Lakanal House.

Requirements for fire safety are set out in Approved Documents B Vol.1 (Dwellinghouses) and B Vol.2 (Buildings other than Dwellinghouses) of the Building Regulations as appropriate, including means of warning and escape, internal fire spread and compartmentation, external fire spread and access for fire and rescue equipment.

According to RIBA, the results emerging from the current DCLG testing programme prompted by the Grenfell Tower fire, demonstrate more than ever an urgent need to investigate the efficacy and usability of the current version of Approved Document B and related standards, as well as the building control compliance and enforcement regimes. RIBA believes that the review of Approved Document B must be a comprehensive, transparent and fundamental reappraisal, rather than amendment or clarification, and should begin without delay to remove uncertainty, provide clarity and protect public safety.

“Understandably there has been a lot of media speculation about the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire and the reasons for the huge loss of life, and a desire to seek answers as quickly as possible,” RIBA comments. “The relevant authorities, including the police, will inevitably require some time to complete their investigations and the public inquiry will provide an opportunity for the fullest possible examination. This should be a full public inquiry, with evidence taken under oath and the inquiry able to order witnesses to attend by summons.”

However, says RIBA, for a number of years concerns have been raised about aspects of the regulatory and procurement regime for buildings in the UK. These include:

  • 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.

RIBA believes that future proposals for the fire safety regulatory regime should be informed by the specialist fire safety expertise of relevant professional organisations and groups, such as the Building Research Establishment, the Fire Protection Association, the Fire Safety Federation, the Institute of Fire Engineers, the Association of Specialist Fire Protection and the All Party Parliamentary Fire and Rescue Group, and also take full account of this wider set of construction industry regulatory, practice and process issues.

RIBA called for a public inquiry in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and will be calling on its members to provide technical and expert evidence to it. It states:

“We wish to stress that this should be a full public inquiry, with evidence taken under oath and the inquiry able to order witnesses to attend by summons.

“The public inquiry is likely to take some significant time. It would be irresponsible for RIBA to speculate at this stage about the cause and spread of the Grenfell Tower fire and the reasons for the shocking and distressing level of loss of life.

“However, RIBA believes that certain actions should be commenced in parallel with the public inquiry process. In particular, we urge the Government to:

  • Commence immediately the delayed formal review of Approved Document B, which was first proposed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in 2013 in response to the Coroner’s rule 43 letter following the inquest into the deaths resulting from the 2009 fire at Lakanal House.
  • Re-visit the recent review of Building Bulletin (BB) 100, and, in particular, to consider the mandating of sprinkler systems in all new schools, in parallel with the overall review of Approved Document B.

Further information on Approved Document B is available from RIBA.