The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has today, Thursday 18 October 2018, responded to the Government’s consultation on fire Building Regulations, Approved Document B.
The aim of the government consultation was to clarify the official guidance by improving usability and reducing the risk of misinterpretation by those carrying out and inspecting building work.
Jane Duncan, Chair of the Expert Group on Fire Safety says, “It has been sixteen months since the devasting tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the public are still waiting for answers that will guide the industry. Although the consultation seeks to partially address a lack of clarity, it falls short of making any significant changes. A review of Approved Document B has been necessary for years and this simply isn’t enough to ensure that buildings are safe for the public.
“We are deeply concerned however that the further, more adequate review will be a lengthy process. We urge the government to resource this review sufficiently to enable a swift and thorough update so that the guidance includes the recommendations that we and others have been calling for.”
The RIBA is disappointed that the limited scope of ‘clarification’ has not yet been met. The latest draft has gone some way towards providing a more navigable and useable document but there are significant areas that remain impenetrable, such as the section on unprotected areas. It is expected that a frequently demanded, further comprehensive review will take place, with a lengthy consultation and evidence gathering process, but in the meantime it leaves designers without clear prescriptive guidance and puts projects and future building users at risk.
The RIBA Expert Group on Fire Safety set out four key recommendations for baseline prescriptive requirements:
- Non-combustible cladding – significant products in external wall construction for existing or new buildings over 18m in height must be certified ‘non-combustible’ (European classification A1) products only.*
- More than one means of escape – in all new multiple occupancy residential buildings, a requirement for at least two staircases, offering alternative means of escape, where the top floor is more than 11m above ground level or the top floor is more than three storeys above the ground level storey (as required for commercial buildings).
- Sprinklers – retro-fitting of sprinklers / automatic fire suppression systems and centrally addressable fire alarm systems to existing residential buildings above 18m from ground level as ‘consequential improvements’ where a building is subject to ‘material alterations’.
- Mandatory requirement for sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems and addressable central fire alarms in all new and converted residential buildings, as already required in Wales.
*To ensure clarity is provided to the industry the RIBA recommends that the ban should apply to plasterboard, sheathing boards, insulation, spandrel panels, outermost cladding products and large systems that protrude from the buildings walls such as balconies and briese soleil only. The European Classification A1 should be used rather than A2 (with the exception of plasterboard) for these products, to protect against production of smoke and flaming particles/droplets.
Following the government announcement to apply a ban using the lower classification (A2), the RIBA recommends that this be strictly limited to A2-s1, d0. This would ensure very limited smoke production and no flaming particles/droplets from permitted products.