The latest requirements of fire safety regulations Part B are aimed to give designers more choice in how they can install measures to help to save lives.
One of the primary aims of the latest version of Part B of the Building Regulations is to furnish consultants with more design freedom. The new rules governing fire safety will also promote innovation according to the ODPM’s proposals published last month. Anne Hemming, the head of the buildings division at the ODPM, says the new guidance could even produce cost savings.
The government hopes it will provide designers with more flexibility by offering them more options for the provision of fire safety. For example, it says that in dwellings of more than three storeys, sprinklers could be provided instead of secondary escape routes. In tall buildings it suggests that in some circumstances lifts could be considered as part of a management plan for evacuation – this could potentially save the developer the cost of an extra stair and reduce buildings’ footprints.
Sprinklers certainly seem to get star billing in the Part B consultation document. As well as suggesting that sprinklers be mandatory in high-rise apartments (more than 30 m high), it also proposes sprinklers for residential care homes. Smoke alarms are another preventative measure that appears to be favoured by the government. It suggests making them mandatory in main bedrooms.
The reasons behind the move towards protection can be found in the 2003 government white paper Our Fire and Rescue Service. This set out the government’s goal of reducing the number of fires by moving towards more of a fire prevention and protection strategy. It led to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, which will consolidate disparate fire safety legislation into one document and primarily focus on fire protection. Expected to come into force in April 2006, this will scrap fire certificates and transfer the responsibility for occupational fire safety to the building owner or occupier.
To help owners or occupiers take responsibility for fire safety, the Part B consultation document proposes a “general regulation” that will require developers of non-domestic properties to pass on fire safety information. The government says that this will help to reduce risk of casualties that could occur as a result of a failure to adopt appropriate management procedures, or maintain fire protective measures (for example damaging a cavity barrier when running computer cabling).
This would assist owners and occupiers in producing a risk assessment, which is required under the RRFSO. The government also believes that costs could be reduced as collating the information together at the start of the construction process would cut the cost of sourcing and assessing this information at a later date.
The RIA estimates that the economic benefit of removing the provision for self-closing devices would be £14.2m
Although the government does not propose to make any changes to the requirements of Part B, it does recommend changes to the guidance in the approved document.
In the Part B regulatory impact assessment, the government has estimated the number of lives saved for each proposal as well as the costs. Of the measures proposed for dwellings, the RIA estimates that even though smoke alarms in main bedrooms would cost £2.1m a year, the measure would save seven lives and prevent 215 injuries over 10 years.
The RIA estimates that the economic benefit of removing the provision for self-closing devices would be £14.2m. The ODPM has suggested the removal of the requirement because of the obstructions the doors cause, particularly to children, and because many door closers are disabled soon after installation.
The potential cost of the government’s plans is about £81m. Much of this comes from two proposals to aid firefighting in tall buildings. The RIA estimates the cost of providing firefighting shafts in assembly and recreation buildings, such as conference halls, to be £22m, and it estimates the cost of installing dry risers as being about £12m. Increasing the width of stairs in tall buildings to aid evacuation and firefighting would cost about £35m in construction costs a year.
The industry has until 18 November to examine the fine detail and send in its response to the consultation. The government will be keen to push through many of the changes. It estimates that up to 18 lives and 367 injuries could be prevented if all its proposals are adopted. Considering that the number of fire-related deaths and injuries has stubbornly refused to fall in recent years, the new guidance in Part B provides the government and industry with a golden opportunity to save more lives.
Significant changes to part B
The government intends to introduce the following requirements:
- Ventilate common corridors and lobbies to control smoke and so protect stairs shared by apartments, either by mechanical and natural ventilation
- Install additional smoke alarms in the main bedroom
- Install suitable smoke alarm system where domestic extension is proposed
- Include cavity barriers in dwellings and non-dwellings, around windows and doors and in floor voids
- Design compartment walls to take account of the deflections that occur in the structural frame of the building during a fire
- Include more inclusive design to aid access: level thresholds for final exits; install refuges for disabled people awaiting assistance; emergency voice communication to facilitate evacuation of people waiting in refuges.
The government will introduce the following requirements depending on potential impacts, costs and benefits:
- Provide sprinkler protection in high-rise apartments and residential care homes
- Provide for fire protection of corridors in typically “self storage” warehouses
- Remove the provision of any form of self-closing device within a dwelling, other than in doors to garages
- Treat loft conversions in a two-storey house in the same way as a new three-storey house in Part B
- Provide a protected firefighting shaft for assembly and recreation buildings of more than 7.5 m in height, including firefighting stair, lobbies, fire resistant doors, smoke shaft and possibly a firefighting lift. However, this requirement does not apply to storage buildings.
- Provide additional dry rising mains in certain tall buildings.
- Increase the width of stair in tall buildings to aid evacuation and firefighting.
- Include lifts as part of the evacuation and firefighting plan in some circumstances.
Summary of costs and benefits
- £5.8m per year for dwellings
- £74.9m per year for buildings other than dwellings
- £0.56m familiarisation for Building Control bodies
- Negative impact on self-closing device manufacturers
- £3.5m familiarisation for industry.
- Cost savings of £14.2m per year in dwellings due to removal of provision for self-closing device
- 13 lives saved and 352 injuries prevented in dwellings in 10-year period
- Five lives saved and 30 injuries prevented in buildings other than dwellings over 10 years
- Additional benefits in terms of: reduction in distress and disruption due to fire; future economic savings; environmental benefits (less water pollution, less water usage, improved air quality and so on); improved clarity of guidance
- Protective measures to reduce future risk and assist in firefighting and search and rescue operations.