UK consults on tougher building fire safety standards

The government is seeking views on the appropriateness of ‘desktop studies’, or assessment based on the results of previous testing, as a means of assessing the fire performance of external cladding systems and other construction products. The consultation, which closes on 25 May, could ultimately mean that the use of desktop studies is “significantly restricted or banned altogether”, according to housing secretary Sajid Javid.

Javid said that the government was “taking action to strengthen building regulations guidance” in response to the interim findings of health and safety expert Dame Judith Hackitt, following her interim report on building regulations and fire safety which was commissioned by the government following the fire at Grenfell Tower in London in June 2017.

“This demonstrates the tough measures we are prepared to take to make sure that cladding tests are as robust as possible and people are safe in their homes,” Javid said. Desktop studies are an established part of the system for classifying the fire performance of construction products and systems, as set out in the building regulations governing fire safety matters in and around buildings in England. However, in her interim report, Dame Judith recommended that the government should tighten restrictions on their use “to ensure that they are only used where appropriate and with sufficient, relevant test evidence”.
The government has now proposed changes to the approved guidance to “ensure that assessments are carried out correctly, in line with Dame Judith’s recommendation”. However, it is also seeking views on whether it should go further, and prohibit the use of desktop studies either for all fire test classifications, or for fire test classifications explicitly involving cladding.

The government has also proposed a number of changes to the relevant guidance, should the continued use of desktop studies be considered appropriate. These changes would, it said, improve the transparency of assessments, allow for the proper scrutiny of results and ensure that studies can only be carried out by “properly accredited bodies that have the relevant expertise”, in line with Dame Judith’s recommendations.

The British Standards Institution (BSI) has been commissioned by the government to draft a new standard which would help users to apply the results generated from desktop studies in relation to cladding systems, should their continued use be considered appropriate. Once a new standard is introduction, the “expectation” is that it would be followed, the government said.