Summary of the Interim Hackitt Report on Fire Safety Issued in December 2017

The Hackitt Enquiry is an independent review of building regulations and fire safety, commissioned in July 2017 in the wake of the disaster at Grenfell Tower, London. The Hackitt Report issued in December 2017 is an Interim Report which presents the initial findings of Dame Hackitt and her team, and is particularly focused on high-rise buildings for residential use. This initial report feeds into a further report which will focus upon these findings and is due to be issued in the spring of 2018.

The Hackitt Enquiry is a call to action for the entire range of stakeholders operating within the high-rise and complex buildings sector and there will be a Summit in early 2018 where methods will be discussed for taking the results of this report forward. This Interim Report reviewing Building Regulations and Fire Safety is split into five chapters, Findings and Direction of Travel, A Brief History of the Current Regulatory System, The Current Regulatory Landscape, Gathering Stakeholder Evidence, and International Systems for Building Regulation and Fire Safety.

A brief summary of the Report’s initial findings extracted from the Findings and Direction of Travel chapter is highlighted below:

Findings and Direction of Travel

An independent and forward-looking review of fire safety and building regulations was launched by the UK Government in July 2017. The review team was led by Dame Judith Hackitt and its findings and conclusions will be fed into the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, currently underway.

Grenfell Tower, London

This review is a systemic review of fire safety and focused upon regulatory systems in place, rather than specific requirements.

The conclusion of the review team was that the “current regulatory system is not fit for purpose in relation to high-rise and complex buildings”. The current system needs to be improved in a number of ways relating to:

Regulation and guidance

Although the Building Regulations 2010 are clear about desired outcomes, they are unclear regarding responsibilities. Confusion exists regarding the regulations and the guidance, as laid out in the Approved Documents section. The Approved Documents are not set out in a user-friendly format and are laid out in multiple specifications with no easy way for these to be integrated into one single compliant specification. Key definitions are unclear and it is unclear what the exact role of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC) for England actually happens to be.

Competence

The report concluded that ways of assessing and ensuring competence levels are unclear and inadequate. Although the review found many instances of people planning, constructing and maintaining buildings in a conscientious fashion, there were a number of examples of a lack of competence highlighted across a range of services, including fire risk assessors, designers, fire engineers, builders and building control inspectors. It was noted that there is no requirement for accreditation or statutory registration for fire risk assessors conducting risk assessments at high-rise buildings. There is also no legislation in place to provide a statutory competence framework for Local Authority Building Inspectors. No overarching requirements are in place for all safety-critical tradespeople to be registered to carry out works.

The Report recommended that professional and accreditation bodies should join forces to ensure a robust qualifications system covering all aspects of work on high-rise buildings, including engineers, fire safety system installers, fire risk assessors, fire safety enforcement officers and building control inspectors.

Roles and responsibilities

There is a lack of clarity surrounding roles and responsibilities and, even if there are requirements for key actions to take place, it’s unclear who has responsibility for them. There is no requirement for named people to be responsible for ensuring compliance with Building Regulations. When buildings are handed over there is no identification of ‘Responsible persons’ as required by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, so consequently people are unaware of their responsibilities. Constructors do not take responsibility for ensuring the lifetime safety of buildings, but instead tend to aim for the minimum levels of compliance that are necessary. Required consultations during the construction period are not handled in an appropriate fashion.

Residents’ voices and the raising of concerns

Residents have advised that their trust in current systems has been shaken since the Grenfell tragedy and that a more transparent system needs to be in place which will provide more inclusion. Many residents advised they had good relationships with landlords and felt that robust systems were in place, however, when this is not the case, residents should be provided with a quick, clear and effective pathway for raising and addressing concerns with an external enforcement body.

It is important that residents understand the fire safety protection measures in place within buildings and they should be provided with results of surveys and consulted about any plans to modify buildings.

Process, compliance and enforcement

The current regulatory process needs to be streamlined and consistent. At present there are too many regulatory bodies responsible for enforcement, each providing different approaches to the demonstration of compliance and assurance. When it comes to fire safety, it’s essential to engage the right people at the design stage and ensure their views are taken into account.

The Report recommended that early consultations with fire and rescue services were required for buildings covered by the Fire Safety Order, so that fire safety measures could be designed into the projects at an early stage. It was also noted that the original design intent of these buildings should be recorded and preserved, with any changes needing to go through a formal review process and undertaken by people who are competent. The Report also noted that a thorough and independent review should take place, with completion of a handover process, prior to any occupation, or phased occupation, of buildings.

It was further recommended that building control regulators should seek proof of transfer of fire safety information from the constructors to the person responsible for the building when it is in occupation. The person responsible for the condition of the building should be clearly identified to residents and should provide residents with clear guidelines on any modifications or works carried out in their own properties.

When it comes to risk assessing buildings, fire risk assessments for high-rise residential buildings should be conducted annually and results should be shared with all residents and the local fire and rescue service. The Report suggested that any building safety should not rely heavily upon compartmentation, but should provide significant layers of protection. Residents’ actions or maintenance works throughout the entire building can often breach compartmentation measures. A range of fire protection measures can be fitted or amended in existing buildings, for instance added staircases, smoke ventilation systems and sprinkler systems. Further, when technological advances to improve building safety are available, they should not just be a requirement for any future buildings but should be considered for existing buildings.

It was further recommended that costs of achieving compliance should be far less than the fines or sanctions likely to be imposed upon those who failed to achieve standards.

Quality assurance and products

It is critical that all products are marketed, tested and certified appropriately. The use of desktop studies to approve changes to systems such as cladding should be limited by Government restrictions and only used when sufficient testing evidence is provided. Anybody undertaking desktop studies should hold the appropriate qualifications and demonstrate competence.

A number of the people responding to the report enquiry called for significant construction projects to reinstate the Clerk of Works role to ensure quality assurance and workmanship. The Report recommends oversight of the materials used on site and of all installation works carried out at sites.

The second phase of this review will examine requirements for data from product testing to be more transparent and available to the public, so it provides a clearer system for product labelling and classification.

Many of the findings highlighted in the following chapters of the Review were incorporated into Chapter 1 of the Report on Findings and Direction of Travel, and the second phase of the Review will focus upon the creation of a revised regulatory system that will be clearer and simpler to follow, while delivering better outcomes overall.

Key findings

One of the key findings of this interim report is that the current system of regulations that are in place to ensure fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings is “not fit for purpose”. This is applicable throughout the life cycle of buildings, from the construction stages right through to occupation. There are several reasons for this, including:

  1. Current guidelines and regulations are unclear, leading to confusion and misinterpretation when applying legislative requirements to high-rise buildings.
  2. There is poor clarity of roles and responsibilities, leading to lack of people taking responsibility for key activities relating to design, construction and maintenance.
  3. There is no way of assessing or ensuring competency of key people working on high-rise and complex building structures.
  4. Procedures for compliance, sanctions and enforcement are too weak.
  5. Residents have an unclear and inadequate route for escalating concerns.
  6. There are no clear systems for product testing, quality assurance or marketing.

You can download or read the complete Interim Report on Building Regulation and Fire Safety on the UK Government website (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/668747/Independent_Review_of_Building_Regulations_and_Fire_Safety.pdf)

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