Building the future: developments in fire safety in the built environment


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The construction industry has faced intense scrutiny in the years since the Grenfell disaster. In response to the fire that claimed the lives of 72 building residents, the UK government put into law The Building Safety Act 2022 to make provision about the safety of people in or about buildings and the standard of buildings, to amend the Architects Act 1997, and to amend provision about complaints made to a housing ombudsman.

Reflecting these changes, one of Charted Institute of Building’s (CIOB) most popular guides, the Code of Practice for Project Management for the Built Environment, was recently updated and a 6th edition published.  The guide is designed to reflect how the practice and processes in construction have changed, and the increasing pressures on the industry, with the Code of Practice (CoP) having undergone a significant re-structuring since the 5th edition published in 2014.

Code of practice

In this new edition, CIOB is aiming to equip construction and project managers with insight into a whole life-cycle approach, where assets can be delivered not only to meet the expected quality, cost and time targets, but where other broader, equally important, notions of value can be incorporated.

“It is a Gold guide for project management in the built environment as it delivers an up to date and comprehensive guide to everyone that works in this field,” explains Dr Gina Al-Talal, CIOB Head of Technical Standards and Development. “It was created due to a high demand for a publication on this type to help project managers deliver high quality and successful projects within an agreed timeline and has been endorsed by other institutions like the ICE, RIBA, and APM.”

There are eight key themes addressed in each chapter of the new code so that projects can be managed to deliver: higher quality, sustainability, greater value for suppliers, clients, end-users, increased productivity, strong leadership and collaboration, shared knowledge and reduced risk.

“We set out for the 6th edition to be a bold revision and to be broader in scope i.e. to set the agenda for the ‘Built Environment’ rather than just ‘Construction and Development’,” explains Dr Al-Talal. “It encourages the adoption of an end-to-end life cycle approach.”

On the topic of fire safety, the associated acts and legislations are referenced in this Code and a specific Guidance note on Building Safety Bill (as it was at the time of publication) and the Fire safety act was added. In addition, she says, PAS 9980 was referenced too as an upcoming legislation on Fire risk appraisal and assessment of external wall construction and cladding of existing blocks of flats.

With regards to The Golden Thread, she says: “The guide talks about The Golden Thread as one of the strategic drivers in the industry today through references to the Dame Judith Hackitt enquiry to Grenfell, the Framer review, and linking it to the soft-landing framework. We also added a specific guidance note on ISO 19650 on managing information on the whole life of the building asset.”

She adds: “I am pleased to see this publication undergoing a total revamp at a time when it’s needed more than ever, given the extraordinary pressures on the industry around the world. I have no doubt that this edition will prove an invaluable reference to built environment professionals at all levels.”

Modern Methods of Construction

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) – off-site construction – is being hailed as a major driver within the construction industry helping to tackle some of the sector’s most pressing issues – such as safety, sustainability and efficiency. With changing legislation around The Building Safety Act coming into force and the recent fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster, fire safety has become a particular focus and the MMC is once again under intense scrutiny.

Off-site construction is already playing a vital role in delivering safety improvements across the board. With its ability to increase building accuracy, deliver watertight design specification and lower the sector’s environmental impact, it is no surprise that MMC is now a crucial element in the conversation around building safety. So, what innovations are taking place and how are companies harnessing MMC to increase safety within construction?

Ibrahim Imam, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of PlanRadar, believes that if the industry is tackle the issue of safety then the industry needs to introduce robust inspection regimes that work through a systematic approach. He says: “By combining digital tools, that use defect management and quality assurance software within a controlled environment, manufacturers can be sure that proper processes have been followed before a product leaves the factory floor.

“This allows for an easily traceable audit trail – so when products arrive on-site, contractors can be sure that safety protocols have been followed to the T, with a digital record to prove it.”

Lee Jones, Head of Manufacturing Solutions, NBS, suggests that thesuccess of MMC lies in its efficiency: “By working within a structured framework, standardised components drive up quality, reduce waste and allow the sector to build much more effusively and quickly – up to 50% faster than traditional builds.

“Modular construction also enables phases of work to be undertaken concurrently and factory conditions means that workers aren’t battling with inclement weather – a common issue in the UK and one that can impact quality. A traditionally constructed building made on site is like a prototype each time. What modularisation offers is the chance to improve the data around how building components perform as systems.” 

He adds that there are so many benefits from MMC: “It’s an efficient, innovative and sustainable solution to poor building design. A move to digital data management, driven by legislation and a new focus on safety, is a key priority in a post-pandemic world and a ‘standardised’ approach will reduce mistakes and drive build quality.”

Ben Hancock, Managing Director, Oscar Acoustics, says that acoustic design should be prioritised in the future of construction, as it can be easily overlooked yet is vital for the health and welfare of building occupants. “It’s particularly important in MMC where it isn’t just about visual aesthetics but including sound absorbing products wherever possible to eliminate the risk of stressful noise reverberation in the final build,” he explains.

“It’s also about giving proper consideration to acoustics at the earliest stages of design, during specification, where architects can be sure they are choosing the safest and most effective products available on the market.”

A systematic approach

Ian King, Chief Operating Officer, Zeroignition, believes that MMC allows for buildings to be created and viewed as a system rather than something that has evolved out of individual components. “This helps improve building performance as the components have been devised to work together, offering benefits that are wide-ranging from heating/cooling optimisation through to enhanced building safety,” he explains. “Safety improvements are driven because of the factory environment, where the process has consistency and repeatability built in. It is also by its very nature, an easier environment to monitor quality. This will ensure that building quality improves as MMC becomes more commonplace.”

King says that a system-led, fire protection design method should also be adopted which would involve checking the specified components work both individually and holistically, which he says is much easier in an MMC build as without a joined-up approach, it is difficult to be sure whether individual elements will perform as they should in the event of an emergency.

“The beauty of factory construction or MMC methods is that it allows for faster production,” says King. “Traditional construction is bespoke and there’s less ability to learn, whereas MMC allows for factory techniques which mean that standardisation and repeatability is built in.”

He adds that the construction industry need only to look to other industries to learn valuable lessons in fire safety: “By further embracing the current ‘digital ‘revolution’, the sector can create ‘digital footprints’ that prove the right building criteria and safety checks have been adhered to, much easier in a factory environment.”

This article was originally published in the August edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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