Welsh Government urged not to water down sprinkler regulation

Petition calls for mandatory third-party certification covering system installation and maintenance.

Fire Safety Sprinkler

A petition to stop sprinkler installation regulation being watered down has been put to the Welsh Government.

The petition calls on the government to amend on-going regulation to make it mandatory that the design, installation and maintenance of residential and domestic fire suppression systems is conducted only by those holding appropriate third-party certification.

“This will ensure that such lifesaving systems are correctly designed, installed and maintained by suitably qualified personnel – sadly this is currently not the case,” the petition says.

Replying to the petition, as put to the Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee, former Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths said that under existing guidance it was possible for compliance with the requirements of the building regulations to be met in some other way, other than third party accreditation.

One such option was identified as proving competence of installing and commissioning fire suppression systems to a relevant building control body – even though not being registered with a third-party certification scheme.

The guidance is defined by Approved Document B – one of a suite of such documents issued under the Building Regulations in separate forms for England and Wales.

UK Government issues the Approved Documents for England and the Welsh Government issues the Approved Documents for Wales.

Both Approved Documents B have recommended that fire sprinklers, or other fire suppression systems, be installed in new residential buildings, typically with four floors or more, in England and Wales since 2007.

But Approved Document B for Wales has since been amended to deal with the requirement to install fire sprinkler.

Acting within the devolved area of fire safety, the Assembly passed the Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Measures 2011.

This was implemented by the Building Regulations (Amendment No. 3) and Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Regulations 2013, which made automatic fire suppression systems compulsory in Wales for care homes and certain rooms for residential purposes from 30th April 2014 – as well as for new dwellings.

From  January 2016, there is no requirement for sprinklers to be fitted retrospectively to housing constructed before that date.

Approved Document B for Wales states: “It is essential that automatic fire suppression systems are properly designed, installed and maintained.

“Where an automatic fire suppression system is installed, an installation and commissioning certificate should be provided.

“Third party certification schemes for fire protection products and related services are an effective means of providing the fullest possible assurances, offering a level of quality, reliability and safety.”

The committee heard that although the Hackitt Review was commissioned in the context of the systems of Building Regulations and fire safety in England, the systems in Wales are very similar.

The Welsh Government responded to Dame Judith’s recommendations, and the then Minister for Housing and Regeneration, Rebecca Evans, set out her initial response in a written statement last May.

An expert group, chaired by the minister, developed the recommendations into workable law, policy and practice changes for Wales. A detailed plan for implementing the recommendations is expected to be in place soon.

While Dame Judith’s recommendations refer to buildings of 10 storeys or more, the Welsh Government has indicated it will focus on buildings of seven storeys or more.

In her letter to the Committee, the then Cabinet Secretary stated: “Fire suppression systems form a crucial part in the fire safety provisions within buildings, particularly in high rise buildings.

“We will therefore investigate, as part of this work (the Welsh Government’s plan for implementing changes), whether there is sufficient evidence to justify that those registered with third party certification schemes should be considered as the only method of meeting compliance with the requirements of the building regulations for the installation and commission of fire suppression systems.”

There has been much discussion in the Welsh Assembly on the issue of automatic fire suppression systems, and fire safety more generally, in the wake of Grenfell.

Work by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, for instance, culminated in its report Fire safety in high-rise buildings (private sector), published in November.

However, none of this discussion has focussed specifically on whether or not third-party certification should be mandatory for those installing and commissioning fire suppression systems.