Welsh government gets ‘urgent action’ call on high rise fire safety

Committee says standards post-Grenfell still need tightening in recommending an overhaul of existing legislation.

fire

A Welsh Government committee makes 14 recommendations on high rise fire safety in calling for “further urgent action” post-Grenfell.

The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee says legislation should be brought forward as soon as possible to tighten up standards around safety measures such as fire doors and minimum requirements for those undertaking fire risk assessments.

The key recommendation from the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee is the prioritising of a replacement for the present Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order which dates to 2005.

To the committee, any new legislation should include:

  • Standards for persons undertaking fire risk assessments;
  • A requirement for fire risk assessments to be undertaken as a minimum annually for high rise residential buildings;
  • Clarification that fire doors which act as the front doors to flats are considered part of the communal areas and therefore covered by the legislation replacing the Fire Safety Order 2005.

Other recommendations include:

  • That the Welsh Government explores the feasibility of ensuring invasive level four surveys for all high-rise residential buildings.

This should include the impact on fire and rescue services’ capacity, levels of skills and expertise needed and the lifting of any legislative restrictions; and,

  • That the Welsh Government consider how the planning and building regulation process can be revised to ensure the Fire and Rescue Services are included much earlier in the process.

This is so that their fire safety expertise can be utilised to ensure high rise residential buildings can adequately resist fire.

“We were struck by the apparent differences between buildings on paper and what is actually built and would urge the Welsh Government to examine ways of involving fire and rescue services much earlier on in the process of building high-rise buildings to avoid unforeseen problems,” said Committee chair John Griffiths AM.

Following the Grenfell fire in London last year it emerged doors which claimed to be fire resistant for 30 minutes didn’t last for half that time during testing.

On the issue of combustible materials being used in residential buildings, property developer Viridis told the Committee that some materials available in the UK would not be allowed in other countries:

Viridis said: “The products they sold in the UK complied with the regulations here, and can be used in various combinations to achieve the required compliance.”

But, in isolation, said Viridis, the product just sat on the edge of performance, whereas in Europe, they just didn’t take the risk – because then there was no question about workmanship.

Further concerns were raised about the lack of minimum standards required to carry out fire risk assessments.

This means anyone can carry out such assessments with little or even no training.

Similar assessments for gas or electrical systems require industry-recognised qualifications and accreditation.

The Committee was also concerned at the differences which sometimes occur between building plans and the final built structure.

It emerged that developers sometimes make changes to a building’s design to get around issues, but the changes may not be recorded and, if not assessed robustly, could end up causing unforeseen problems.

Evidence from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “…even though the guys may be entirely competent in doing what they’re doing, they’re doing it in the wrong way through lack of understanding of what was meant to be done, not because they’re incompetent in doing it…..”

However, Assembly Members were informed that all buildings in Wales with aluminium cladding, similar to that which contributed to the Grenfell fire, had been identified.

The report will now be considered by the Welsh Government.

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