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17-05-18

NFCC responds to the release of Dame Judith Hackitt's final report

The Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy that must never be repeated. The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has today welcomed the publication of Dame Judith Hackitt’s final Independent report on Building Regulations and Fire Safety. 

Roy Wilsher, Chair of the NFCC said “We have welcomed Dame Judith Hackitt’s determination to fix the system and the inclusive approach to the consultation process which the NFCC has embraced by supporting all of the working groups. Many of the recommendations in Dame Judith’s report are extremely positive, and they contain findings that we fully support. Amongst these, we strongly welcome a focus on clear and accountable dutyholders, new gateway points, digital record keeping, stronger sanctions and a proposed fund to support enforcement action. Clear dutyholders will help to ensure those who do not take their fire safety responsibilities seriously are easily identifiable and can be dealt with appropriately through the courts.”

Mark Hardingham, Chair of the NFCC Protection and Business Safety Committee said “The report identifies many aspects of a failing system which have been raised by our members – ‘minimum standards’, ‘gaming the system’, ‘design and build’, ‘value engineering’, have all led to a ‘race to the bottom’ and one that has sought to frequently seek out the ‘lowest cost option’ as opposed to the option that provides the safest reasonable outcome.”

However, NFCC does believe that there are areas where more detail is needed, or further work is required, so we can fully appreciate how the findings will be implemented. Mark Hardingham said that “One such area is the buildings within scope. The NFCC understands the attempt to initially focus the review on those buildings that present the greatest risk. However, we are concerned that the current definition is too narrow and overlooks other buildings and vulnerable people that present a notable fire risk, such as sheltered, extra care and supported housing, care homes, student accommodation, and hospitals. In addition, other residential buildings below 10 floors which could be considered high risk will not be captured.”

NFCC does however acknowledge that the report refers throughout to the application of the new principles and findings to the wider built environment and we welcome further discussions with Government on which buildings may be included and how and when these will be prioritised in practice.

The NFCC welcome the report’s conclusions about strengthening the competence of all those involved in the life of a building. Mr Wilsher added “The NFCC will be reviewing and updating its own competency frameworks to ensure that fire and rescue staff have the right skills. We will ensure NFCC is doing everything we can to support the skills of fire and rescue staff and look forward to working with other partners in the sector to consider how skills can be further supported, such as through third-party accreditation.”

Mark Hardingham added “We are particularly pleased to see Dame Judith calling for a better system for testing, certification, labelling, and traceability of building products, supported by a tougher market surveillance and sanctions regime that would provide national oversight to cover construction product safety”.

NFCC fully supports recommendations that product testing should be verified by an independent third-party certification body, and that summaries of the tests carried out and the number of passes and failures should be reported. It strongly agrees with calls for additional and significant rigour to be applied to desktop studies, and that they should only be carried out by a competent person and based on relevant test data.

Roy Wilsher added “It is not clear that the recommendations will address problems with overlapping legislation. Whilst the report states there must be clarity and a single enforcing authority, called the Joint Competent Authority, for the whole of a building is proposed, many residential buildings are not captured by the recommendations, and so the current enforcement overlap between Environmental Health Officers and Fire and Rescue Services will remain. The report states this overlap must be managed by Local Authority Building Control and Fire and Rescue Services working more closely together, an approach that we believe does not satisfactorily deal with the issues.”

On the Joint Competent Authority, NFCC is pleased to see this proposal, including a recognition that the FRS must be a part of it. It will be important for Government and those involved to provide greater clarity and detail about the role, form, function and resources of the Authority to understand how it would work in practice.

One area where the NFCC continues to be disappointed is that of sprinklers. NFCC lead on sprinklers Terry McDermott says that “We believe the report falls short in making explicit requirements for sprinklers in existing and new buildings, both high rise and others that are home to vulnerable people. NFCC has commissioned previous research that has shown how sprinklers, as part of a layered system of protection, save lives, protect property, reduce the impact of fire on the environment, reduce interruption to business and make buildings safer for firefighters when they do respond.”

In closing, Mark Hardingham noted “A detailed resource impact assessment will be needed to understand the capacity for fire and rescue services to take on the additional roles and responsibilities proposed - the JCA, Safety Case Reviews, new competency and accreditation requirements, and other work associated with the additional focus on the buildings within scope both now and in the future.”

Roy Wilsher finished “It is encouraging to see many of the concerns raised by our members reflected in the recommendations and once again we congratulate Dame Judith and her team on the way they have gone about their work. The report is clear, and NFCC agrees, that the holistic nature of the findings means any attempt to cherry pick recommendations will not deliver the change needed. The NFCC would go further however, in recommending a robust set of underpinning legislation and regulations to achieve the cultural shift necessary to deliver a system focused on constructing and maintaining safe buildings”.

The NFCC looks forward to the Government response to today’s report, and to engaging further on the detail of any proposals, together with how they are established and resourced in the future.

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