Building Safety (UK)

I wrote quite some time ago, about HMG review of cladding and fire safety aspects following the Grenfell Tower Fire.

Yesterday (18th July) HMG made the following written statement –

Building safety update

My Rt Hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (James Brokenshire) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I wish to update the House before the Summer recess on building safety, including: my expectations of building owners on the removal of unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding; the steps this Government is taking on the remediation of existing buildings; wider updates on testing programmes; and early action on delivering the recommendations to reform the building safety regulatory system.

My priority is that residents should be safe – and feel safe – in their homes. All buildings with ACM cladding have had interim safety measures put in place as soon as they have been identified, and Fire and Rescue Services are conducting inspections to ensure those measures remain in place.

However, too many people have been living in fear for too long because of the slow progress being made by those responsible for making their buildings permanently safe. While many building owners have rightly taken action, there are still a number of residential buildings across the public and private sectors with unsafe ACM cladding where remediation has not yet started.

I am clear that this situation is unacceptable. That is why I want to set out my expectations on the timing of remediation of buildings with unsafe ACM cladding. Given the £600 million of funding this Government has made available, there is no further excuse for delay.

In the social sector, other than a small handful of exceptional cases, remediation will be completed by the end of the year.

In the private sector, progress has been slower, which is why this Government took action by announcing a £200 million fund. By the end of December 2019, any building in the private sector which I have not been assured is permanently safe should have a clear commitment to remediation, with a start and finish date agreed. Where no such safety assurance or plan has been brought forward by the end of December, building owners can expect enforcement action to be taken. My expectation is that, other than in exceptional circumstances, building owners should complete remediation within six months of agreeing a plan – by June 2020.

I acknowledge that this Government also has a role to play in ensuring that remediation is undertaken. That is why, on 9 May I announced that this Government was introducing a new £200 million fund to unblock progress in remediating private sector high-rise residential buildings. My Department has been in contact with relevant building owners or managers to enable them to start preparatory work on an application to the fund. My Department will today publish a prospectus setting out the scope and eligibility criteria for the fund, how to apply and the timetable for submitting applications.

To help facilitate remediation, I would like to clarify the planning treatment of ACM cladding replacement works. Planning permission may not be required where the external appearance of a building is not materially altered by replacement cladding. Approval for recladding is only needed if the work amounts to “development” within the meaning of section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 or is required within the terms of a previous planning permission.

Local planning authorities should take a proportionate approach and work proactively with building owners to identify whether planning approval is necessary. I strongly encourage developers to engage with the local planning authority at the earliest opportunity during development of their remediation plans.

Where a planning application is considered necessary, pre-application engagement can help to resolve any issues and assist local planning authorities in issuing timely decisions. Local planning authorities should also take a proportionate approach to the amount of information needed to support an application and consider carefully whether charging a fee for their early advice is appropriate in these cases. Decisions on applications should be made as quickly as possible and can be made as soon as the time limit for consultation has expired. Building owners would also need to ensure that the work complies with Building Regulations and that they obtain the necessary approval.

My Department has also commenced a data collection exercise which will enable the Department to build a complete picture of external wall systems in use on high rise residential buildings. We have asked local authorities and housing associations to identify external wall materials and insulation on all high-rise residential buildings 18 metres and over.

On 11 July a fire test in accordance with British Standard 8414 was carried out at the laboratories of the Fire Protection Association. This test was commissioned by my Department on the advice of the Independent Expert Advisory Panel and involved a cladding system consisting of a Class B, fire retardant, high pressure laminate rainscreen with a non-combustible rock fibre insulation. This is part of an ongoing, systematic investigation into the fire risks from non-ACM cladding systems. I can confirm that this system met the relevant pass criteria and that the Expert Panel are satisfied that this specific system does not present a risk to public safety. Detailed advice from the Expert Panel on high pressure laminate cladding systems is also being published by my Department today.

My Department has also continued its investigations into fire doors. We have already made available the results of a sample of Glass-Reinforced Plastic composite fire doors tested by my Department. Following the advice of the Expert Panel, Government expanded the testing to include timber fire doors. Today I am making available the results from the testing of a sample of timber fire doors from 25 manufacturers. I am pleased to report that all have succeeded in meeting the required 30-minute fire performance standard. The sample included a range of glazed and un-glazed fire doors with a variety of hardware and were tested on both sides of the door. The summary results of the timber fire door tests to inform building risk assessments are now available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/fire-door-investigation

As a result of our tests, the Expert Panel have concluded that they do not believe there is a performance concern with timber fire doors across industry, where they are purchased directly from the manufacturer and produced to specification.

It is important to be clear that, although the results of our testing provide assurances for residents who have concerns about their fire doors, it is for building owners to assure themselves that the fire doors they install are fit for purpose and have the required documentation and certification. Guidance for building owners who are replacing flat front entrance doors can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-for-building-owners-on-assurance-and-replacing-of-flat-entrance-fire-doors

Since 2007, building regulations guidance has stated that all new blocks of flats over 30 metres should have sprinklers. In 2013, the Department wrote to all local authorities and housing associations, asking them to consider a Coroner’s Report recommendation that they should consider retro-fitting sprinklers in existing residential buildings over 30 metres.

The Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap was abolished on 29th October 2018, giving freedom to local authorities to help finance unforeseen capital repairs programmes, such as retro-fitting sprinklers, as well as build new homes. It is for building owners to seek professional advice and decide whether to fit sprinklers, on the basis of their assessment of the particular risk faced in their buildings.

At the heart of the regulatory reform is our intention to establish a regulator to oversee the safety and performance of all buildings. We are working closely with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who are sharing their considerable regulatory experience and expertise to help us shape the functions of the new regulator, alongside other members of our Joint Regulators Group. My Department is working with partners to develop proposals to allow the regulatory functions to exist prior to the new legislative regime being in place. We are similarly seeking the advice and input of the HSE on implementing the new regime following legislation.

This statement has also been made in the House of Commons: HCWS1757

High Rise Tower Fire Checks (UK)

Update 29th August : Independent fire specialists order different fire tests – reported in Inside Housing here

Update 6th July : new fire tests are ordered on cladding. So far, tests have covered only the plastic “core” on panels similar to those used on Grenfell Tower (and all but one fire test was a failure – 190 out of 191 samples). The new process will subject a demonstration wall to a “severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window” and aim to establish whether it will then spread up the outside wall. It will also assess how different types of aluminium composite material (ACM) panels behave with different types of insulation in a fire, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said.

Update 22nd June : DCLG letter is issued to local authorities and housing authorities of immediate safety tests to be undertaken should the cladding material fail Fire tests – this letter is here

Update 16th June : a public inquiry is announced amid calls for an inquest to be held into the deaths. Scotland Yard will also conduct a criminal investigation. 

A devastating fire started last night in a high rise tower block in Kensington, West London – many of you will be watching the news reels that are covering this.

Nick Hurd, appointed yesterday as Police and Fire Minister, has announced immediate fire safety checks of similar high rise blocks. The scope of these checks is not presently clear. The instruction appears to be to Local Authorities. 

Part B of the Building Regulations 2010 (fire safety) is in the spotlight and has been with the government for review since 2016, following a devasting fire in another tower bloc in 2009 and that coroner’s report issued in 2013. The current Part B documents are here

Please remember that employers’ obligations vis a vis Fire Safety are consolidated by the Fire Safety Order (the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005), and its equivalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland, these are in EHS Legislation Register systems, in the various Fire Safety Registers. The Building Regulations are found in ENV Energy. I will add the Part B documents to the OHS Fire Registers for completeness.

The Building Regulations are in the spotlight because of eye witness observations of the fast speed of fire spread. 

Concerns over external cladding were raised in the UK as early as 1999, here

This post will be updated, as and when further regulatory information is available. 

Ready-Made Garment Industry (Bangladesh)

I posted in December 2013 on new standards for the ready-made garment industry.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) resources in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy are here.

“On 24 April 2013, the garment factory building “Rana Plaza” collapsed, killing more than 1,100 workers and injuring 2,500. One year after the global garment industry’s worst-ever industrial accident, the ILO together with the government of Bangladesh, employers, trade unions and the international community are working together to make sure it never happens again.”

The ILO posted April 3rd 2014 clarifying its role – this post is here.

Bangladesh Ready-Made Garment Industry Standards

I posted earlier on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) initiative. This post is here.

Three groups are developing fire safety standards – the Accord on Fire and Safety in Bangladesh, which is led by mostly European retailers; the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, led by Wal-Mart Stores and Gap; and the government’s own National Tripartite Action Plan.

In November 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the International Labour Organization (ILO), technical experts from the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) came to agreement on a common, minimum criterion for fire and structural inspection safety standards, pending a few final modifications.

Information on the contribution of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety is here.

Per the review in the Wall Street Journal – “Among other things, it mandates that factory inspections must be carried out by at least two qualified inspectors with a minimum experience of five years each and a combined experience of at least 20 years. It details a “load map” that sets out the maximum number of machines allowed in a floor area. It also requires factories to install fire doors to prevent smoke entering stairwells in case of a fire, and prescribes a maximum distance of 25 meters (about 82 feet) between exits.”

Also per the Wall Street Journal – “The European accord is inspecting more than 1,600 factories, while the U.S. alliance is covering roughly 600 factories that supply its members. Bangladesh has approximately 5,000 garment factories, according to the national garment manufacturers’ association.”

Hydrocarbon Tank Cleaning Fireball

A UK company was prosecuted and heavily fined (29th October) after serious injuries were caused by safety failings in the method used by the company to clean large fuel bowsers (tanks) deployed in the aviation industry.

It seems the cleaning method required persons to climb through a manhole cover on top of six-metre-long 20,000 litre aviation fuel tanks to clean the inside by applying a highly flammable solvent to a cloth and then wiping down the walls, whilst holding a lamp.

In this instance, since the lamp inside the tank was getting hot, the person inside the tank carrying out the cleaning pulled the plug from its socket. As he did this, a spark caused the fumes to ignite and he was surrounded by flames, which were witnessed shooting into the air up to two meters above the manhole cover. The fire was so hot that it melted the visor on his mask and his protective suit, so that only the elastic from the collar and cuffs were left.

The HSE press release states the person suffered multiple burns over most of his body, including his arms, legs and face; his hair and eyebrows were burnt off; and his lips badly burnt. He was in hospital for three months and is now almost totally paralysed.

The investigation by Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the method of cleaning the fuel tanks with a highly flammable solvent had been used since 2007 (the incident took place in 2011), but the company had failed to carry out any kind of risk assessment. In addition, there was no supervision of workers or monitoring of the fumes inside the tank, and the masks and lighting provided were entirely unsuitable. Workers also had to take it in turns to clean each tank as the build-up of fumes from the solvent made them feel sick.

The day after the incident, the company decided it did not need to use a solvent to clean the fuel tank and instead used soapy water.

Information on preventing workplace fires and explosions is available at www.hse.gov.uk/fireandexplosion.

Bangladesh Ready-Made Garment Industry Major Safety Initiative (ILO)

DHAKA – The Government of Bangladesh (GoB) and the International Labour Organization today launched a major initiative – including a new Better Work programme – aimed at improving working conditions in the ready-made garment (RMG) industry in Bangladesh.

The three-and-a-half year initiative, ‘Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Sector’ – (RMGP) focuses on minimizing the threat of fire and building collapse in ready-made garment factories and on ensuring the rights and safety of workers.

It has been developed in collaboration with government, employers’ and workers’ representatives, in response to a number of industrial accidents in the sector, including the Rana Plaza building collapse in April, in which more than 1,100 workers died.

The United Kingdom and the Netherlands are jointly contributing US$15 million to the US$24.21 million programme. The ILO is mobilizing further resources.

The RMG programme will provide technical support to building and fire safety assessments; strengthen and support labour, fire and building inspections; build occupational safety and health awareness, capacity and systems and provide rehabilitation and skills training for the victims of Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashions, where 112 workers died in a fire in November 2012.

It compliments other initiatives to improve safety in RMG factories such as the Sustainability Compact adopted by the European Union, Bangladesh Government and the United States, and supported by the ILO; the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which comprises global unions, brands and retailers, and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which brings together North American retailers and brands.

As part of the new programme, the ILO and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) also announced the launch of a Better Work programme in Bangladesh. This will complement the RMG programme by implementing factory-level activities to improve compliance with national labour laws and respect for international core labour standards, while promoting the competitiveness of participating factories.

Better Work Bangladesh will be funded by the governments of Switzerland and the United States, and through the RMG programme by the governments of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The Better Work global programme is funded by the governments of Australia, the Netherlands and Switzerland.