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CROSS Safety Report

Widespread fire safety failings in residential blocks

Report ID: 706 Published: 1 January 2018 Region: CROSS-UK

This report is over 2 years old

Please be aware that it might contain information that is no longer up to date. We keep all reports available for historic reference and as learning aids.

Overview

A reporter highlights fire safety issues that were found during investigations of building defects in residential blocks.

They identify specific issues affected by procurement decisions and substandard installation and maintenance.

Key Learning Outcomes

For clients:

  • Demonstrably competent contractors should be appointed and retained through to completion to safely deliver the project in accordance with the design

  • The Construction Industry Council (CIC) published a report entitled Setting the Bar in 2020. This report details industry wide proposals to raise awareness of safety critical competence requirements.

For the construction team:

  • Be aware that passive fire protection components should be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications

  • Consider introducing a quality assurance process that covers the correct use and installation of fire protection products and components

For design engineers:

  • When contracted to do so, attend site at key stages to inspect the works to ensure they are being built in accordance with the design

For civil and structural design engineers:

  • If advice is taken from specialists (including fire engineers) at specification stage, it is good practice to consult with them when signing off the construction

For building owners and managers:

  • Planned inspections and maintenance is necessary to keep a building safe and identify any safety issues that may need to be addressed

Full Report

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Our secure and confidential safety reporting system gives professionals the opportunity to share their experiences to help others. If you would like to know more, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.

The reporter is involved in investigations covering all types of building defects in residential blocks. In some cases, they involve fire safety concerns.

Sometimes fire safety issues are discovered while looking at other issues. These included:

  • A lack of or poorly fitted fire collars at floor level

  • Poor detailing of plasterboard

  • Fire boarding missing around steel frames

The reporter’s appointment typically includes specification and project management of remedial work with specialists appointed as necessary.

The main causes of fire safety issues in residential blocks

The reporter’s experience leads him to believe that many fire safety issues are caused by:

  • A drive to minimise design and construction costs

  • Employing architects at the planning stage and then leaving the detailed cladding design to trade contractors

  • Little coordination happening where different trades meet

  • A lack of knowledge on site

The reporter is aware of projects where fire engineers have had early input but have not been involved during construction. In such cases, the contractor appears to have proceeded without understanding potential fire safety issues or has made their own judgement about what is required.

On numerous occasions the reporter has had to stand on site with the fire engineer, building inspector and contractor during remedial works. They have had to resolve fire compartmentation details which were not previously considered.

Improving communication improves fire safety

The reporter feels that fire engineers often lack previous site experience and struggle to suggest technically robust and practical solutions. General detailing is usually fine, but as always, 'the devil is in the detail'.

The reporter often arranges for toolbox talks. These are used to:

  • Explain the basic objective of the remedial work

  • Give the fire engineer an opportunity to explain the specific fire issues and required remedial work

  • Give the manufacturer an opportunity to explain how their products should be installed

How a lack of knowledge compromises fire safety

The reporter states that even experienced trades people are surprised when the requirements of robust details are explained to them. The reporter believes that trades people often do not understand how important the tasks are that they are undertaking.

For example, trades people and other professionals are often of the opinion that '2 layers of plasterboard gives 1 hour’s fire protection’. They may not understand the technical requirement to ensure that boards, laps, supports and fixings all must comply with the manufacturer’s test conditions.

The reporter adds that there is often a lack of appreciation by owners and managing agents of crucial tasks. Examples may include appointing a 'responsible person' or arranging regular testing of key features such as automatic opening vents (AOVs).

The reporter has been involved in investigations of 10-year-old buildings where:

  • The fire mains were not connected

  • There was insufficient water pressure to ensure water could be delivered to the upper floors

  • The outlets on upper floor landings were positioned in a way that a fire hose could not be attached

The reporter finishes by stating that in their opinion there is a lack of appreciation and coordination within the industry in relation to fire safety. When combined with poor construction, this is likely to result in fire safety issues with many modern residential blocks.

Expert Panel Comments

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Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.

The reporter has clearly set out a range of fundamental issues that relate to fire safety. The report echoes general feedback to CROSS that there is a considerable lack of knowledge across industry of fire protection demands in buildings.

There is:

  • A lack of knowledge of the detailing required to assure compartmentation

  • Poor inspection of the material installation processes

  • Poor management of continuing functionality through the life of buildings

Fire safety must be consistently stressed throughout design, construction, maintenance and use. It is also very important to consider it when there are alterations.

Education at all levels is needed to raise standards

More needs to be done to improve life safety in buildings. At all stages, the level of fire safety can be reduced by people not understanding the implications of what they are doing.

Experience and competence are one way of countering the risks. There also needs to be more education at all levels to raise standards and understanding.

Unique, and highly fire-engineered buildings may have an increased risk of the important points not being understood in years to come.

CROSS has received many reports listing concerns relating to:

  • Designers not visiting the site
  • Contractors not following design intents
  • Essential information about buildings not being passed to those who may rely upon it to understand the building

It should not take a tragedy for these issues to be acted upon by industry.

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) published a report entitled Setting the Bar in 2020. This report details industry wide proposals to raise awareness of safety critical competence requirements.

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