As the Grenfell Inquiry continues to unearth key learnings with regard to the inadequate testing and certification of building products, particularly in relation to fire integrity solutions, the formation of the new National Construction Products Regulator is a welcome, and much needed, step forward for the sector, says Mick Hill, Lead Technical Manager at Profab Access.
Following the release of the draft Building Safety Bill and the new Building Safety Regulator, the establishment of the National Construction Products Regulator is the latest stage in the government’s strategy to ensure that structures are constructed from safe and suitable building materials.
Phase 1 of the Grenfell Inquiry highlighted the inefficacy of the current testing regime and its enforcement. The inquiry identified associated complications with how key building information is obtained or interpreted by relevant individuals throughout the construction and maintenance stages of a development.
It also exposed concerning ambiguities with regard to current guidelines and regulations, not only in relation to the testing of building materials that are being specified, installed and maintained but also the roles and responsibilities of each individual involved throughout these pivotal points to ensure continued compliance.
For example, in relation to fire integrity riser doors in particular, there are current disparities between the guidelines outlined in BS EN 1634 Standard and Annex B of Approved Document B2. As a result, some manufacturers may currently only conduct their own product assessments, while others may undertake rigorous product testing and certification.
In response to this, Phase 2 of the Grenfell Inquiry will address whether existing guidance on how to comply with Building Regulations is sufficiently clear and reliable. The new National Construction Products Regulator will also be responsible for identifying the corresponding weaknesses of the current product testing regime in relation to legal requirements.
Whilst the new regulator will have the ability to conduct its own tests of building materials they deem to be potentially dangerous, it is also the responsibility of manufacturers of fire integrity products to ensure the products they are supplying to the industry are not only compliant but suitable for the proposed application.
This responsibility is also shared by the customer, who has a legal obligation to undertake and evidence comprehensive due diligence by ensuring they request demonstration of compliance and subsequent testing reports, not just product assessments, for each building component specified on their project. This will allow no assumptions to be made regarding the suitability and performance of the materials installed, ensuring the long-term suitability and safety of the building for its entire lifecycle.
However, manufacturers should not wait for the advancement of the National Construction Products Regulator, nor for legislative requirements to be updated in response to the final findings of the Grenfell Inquiry, to ensure the products they are producing are not only fit for purpose but fit for the future.
So, how can this be achieved?
When a fire integrity building product is specified for an upcoming development, manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure they supply all the necessary information relating to that solution, including fire testing and certification to prove compliance with all relevant regulations.
The professionals accountable for specifying and installing this product also have a responsibility to ensure all potential risks have been successfully mitigated against by demonstrating that certified products, which are supported with comprehensive evidence, have been chosen.
Undertaking product testing and certification by an accredited third party, manufacturers can prove they have fulfilled their duty of care in terms of best practice. This can be done by providing evidence that the solution is not only fit for purpose but goes above and beyond current requirements to offer the highest standards in quality, performance and safety.
The certification of a product by an accredited third party, rather than being tested by the manufacturer themselves, also reassures each individual involved throughout the construction and maintenance stages that it will not fail in the event of a fire.
This is due to the product being supported by comprehensive test documentation that physically proves its suitability and performance, not only for the outlined duration but throughout every stage of the manufacturing process.
As third-party testers are involved throughout the entire construction process, they ensure manufacturers implement appropriate measures that maintain manufacturing consistency and that the product tested is a true representative of production. This subsequently provides building professionals and their clients with unbiased reassurance that each component specified is of the highest quality and offers unrivalled levels of performance.
To ensure their duty of care is continuously fulfilled, manufacturers should partake in regular third-party testing across their entire product range. This will help achieve and ensure a consistent standard of safety and suitability, not only for upcoming projects but for those of the future.
In order to successfully achieve this, and as a result of its commitment to providing clients with the highest standards in fire testing and certification, Profab Access is currently the only manufacturer in the UK to test its fire integrity riser doors bi-directionally through an accredited third party.
This extensive testing process guarantees Profab Access goes above the guidance outlined in BS EN 1634 to ensure complete compliance with the legislation defined in Annex B of Approved Document B2. By undertaking third-party testing, Profab Access can be sure it consistently provides construction professionals and their clients with the highest levels of protection, certification and compliance.
As the new National Construction Products Regulator will set a new standard for testing and compliance, manufacturers should utilise this opportunity to set the benchmark for their own testing practices, by working in partnership with clients to ensure due diligence is fulfilled through the request and supply of comprehensive testing and certification evidence to prove the building materials specified are not only fit for purpose but fit for the future.
Profab Access is a leading UK manufacturer in the design and manufacture of riser doors and access panel solutions for ceilings, walls and partitions.
Bilco UK, Profab Access and Howe Green together form Access 360, a division of Tyman plc, which provides a total manufacturing solution for roof, ceiling, wall and floor access products to the construction industry.
For further information, go to www.profabaccess.com