The fire safety and construction sectors are facing a period of unprecedented change, with the introduction of the new Building Safety Bill, initiatives to improve competency as detailed in the Setting the Bar report, not to mention the impact of Brexit.
The Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) welcomes the reform of building safety and the building regulations and supports the majority of the proposals contained within the draft Building Safety Bill. However, the ASFP recognises that this is a piece of enabling legislation. In other words, it sets up the framework for devising the new building safety rules, and establishes who will enforce these rules but doesn’t actually define the rules.
While it represents a major step forward, and a significant change in how buildings, construction processes and products will be regulated, there is currently little clarity regarding which aspects will be approved and how they will be implemented, particularly as the Bill remains in draft and is subject to scrutiny and potential amendment.
While the Bill establishes new regulators for Building Safety and for Construction Products, it will take some time before we will see any clear definition of how these regulators will operate, the requirements they will define and impose, and how the new rules will be enforced.
A key aspect of the Bill is its creation of the concept of a ‘safety-critical product’. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to place safety-critical products on a statutory list. However, it does not create the list or define what products may or may not be included on it. The ASFP has concerns about how this will be interpreted and its impact on regulations and existing product standards (hEN / dBS, and ETA / UKTA) based on the EU Construction Products Regulation. These concerns relate to the fact that while the Building Safety Bill is clearly about safety, existing EU regulations are aimed at free movement of products and Equivalent Standards, not product safety.
This could lead to issues with the product-testing regime, primarily around how products with European/UK Technical Assessments (ETAs/UKTAs) will be treated. The draft text of the Bill gives products with a UK Technical Assessment exemption from any ‘Safety Critical’ status, a move which the ASFP believes could potentially lead to a loophole. Since ETAs and UKTAs are not mandatory, and there are no minimum requirements for properties within the scope of the technical assessment, the ASFP recommends that ‘product families’ must be defined, along with an appropriate level of testing. It believes that all products within a product family should be tested, assessed and certified based upon individual tests of products and systems to ensure that products cannot gain entrance into the market based upon tests conducted by one manufacturer.
The apparent lack of legislation covering the installers of safety-critical products/systems is also a significant concern for the ASFP. While the current bill text suggests that installers will have to meet a future requirement for a competence-based scheme, the ASFP considers this is an inadequate level of response and calls for some form of regulation of installers.
While many of the concerns relating to competency are addressed in the proposals contained within the recently released Competence Steering Group (CSG) report, Setting the Bar, there remains uncertainty about exactly how such requirements will be implemented and enforced.
Setting the Bar recommends that, wherever appropriate, government should mandate persons working on higher-risk buildings to be registered/certified by a recognised professional or certification body and calls on the industry to adopt a competency framework for all the installer sectors.
Having long campaigned for mandatory third-party certification for installers of fire-protection products, the ASFP welcomes the report’s recognition that the competency of all installers should be independently verified. While it hopes the recommendations bring the industry a step closer to mandatory third-party certification for both products and installers, it urges the industry and government to rapidly implement the proposals, to clearly establish the competence levels required within the construction industry and to oversee their implementation. While the direction of movement is generally positive, it remains unclear what the final requirements will be and, as is always the case, the devil is in the detail.
For more information, go to www.asfp.org.uk