Nick Coombe MBE
As part of a continuing campaign, the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), Business Sprinkler Alliance, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and European Fire Sprinkler Network (EFSN) have been involved in to influence the Review of BB100 Sprinklers in Schools in England. Zurich Municipal analysis of data on over 26,800 schools in England shows the average fire risk in schools is almost double when compared to that of non-residential buildings. Schools in England are nearly twice as likely to suffer a blaze as other types of commercial building, according to the research conducted by Zurich Municipal, the globally renowned insurer of schools in the United Kingdom. Fire risks posed by schools in England In the most comprehensive analysis of its kind to date, the Zurich Municipal analyzed the fire risks posed by 26,866 primary and secondary schools in England. It found the average school posed a fire risk 1.71 times greater than non-residential buildings (with a fire risk score of 0.58 and 0.33 respectively according to Zurich’s model). When compared to 2.92 million non-household properties, schools were also three times more likely to fall into the ‘high’ fire risk category (58% versus 20%), as defined by the study. Data scientists analyzed 33,000 fires from the last six years to identify factors that increase the likelihood of a blaze from which they produced a fire risk score.3 These factors include listed status, presence of cooking equipment and size of the building itself. Lack of fire safety equipment in schools Many schools also lack the equipment needed to prevent small fires becoming major disasters Despite being far riskier than average when it comes to fires, many schools also lack the equipment needed to prevent small fires becoming major disasters. Of more than 1,000 school inspections carried out by Zurich, 66% were rated as having ‘poor’ fixed fire protection systems, such as sprinklers, which are proven to significantly reduce the damage caused by fire. Just 14% were rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. Additionally, a further quarter of the schools (24%) analyzed were judged ‘poor’ for fire detection measures, such as smoke detectors and fire alarms. Firefighters have been called to nearly 2,000 school blazes in the last three years. Malfunctioning equipment & faulty electrics Malfunctioning appliances or equipment, faulty electrics, arson and kitchen blazes are among the leading causes of school fires. Larger fires in schools cost on average £2.8 million to repair and in some cases over £20 million. Bigger and older schools, including those with a canteen, and secondary schools, which have more complex and dangerous equipment, were identified as particularly at risk. A correlation between poor OFSTED ratings and greater risk of fire was also identified in the analysis. Call to change the law on sprinklers in schools The findings have led Zurich to launch a parliamentary petition to urge MPs to change the law on sprinklers in schools. While sprinklers are compulsory in all new or major refurbished school buildings in Scotland and Wales, this is not the case in England. In fact, they are fitted in less than one in six new schools. An alarming number of school buildings pose a high fire risk, yet many are poorly protected against a potential blaze" Tilden Watson, Zurich Municipal’s Head of Education, said “An alarming number of school buildings pose a high fire risk, yet many are poorly protected against a potential blaze. Unless Ministers bring England into line with other parts of the UK, where sprinklers are mandatory, large fires will continue to blight schools. This is harming children’s education and putting lives at risk.” Importance of sprinklers installed in schools Watson adds, “Burnt out schools and classrooms cause major disruption to children’s education, with repairs leading to months or even years of upheaval. They also result in the loss of spaces which local communities rely on out of school hours.” He further stated, “As well as protecting pupils, sprinklers drastically reduce the extent of damage when there is a blaze, often confining the fire to a single room. This gets children back into schools and classrooms quicker as well as saving taxpayers’ money. Countless young people have already had their schooling upended by the coronavirus pandemic. We cannot allow school fires to further disrupt young people’s education, and jeopardize their futures.” Deploying Automatic Fire Suppression Systems Nick Coombe, Protection Vice Chair and Building Safety Program Lead for the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), said “The case for sprinklers is compelling. Of almost 1,000 fires over five years in buildings where sprinklers were fitted, our research found they controlled or extinguished blazes in 99% of cases. We want to see a greater inclusion of Automatic Fire Suppression Systems (AFSS), including sprinklers, across the built environment.” Nick adds, “Sprinklers can dramatically reduce fire damage, making the reopening of a school much easier. This not only minimizes the disruption to a pupil’s education, but also the impact on their family, the community and the wider education establishment.” Improving resilience of schools at risk of fire damage Based on large fires alone, Zurich Municipal estimates that the repair for school fires could hit £320 million over 10 years According to Zurich’s analysis, seven million (7,036,327) primary and secondary school children are taught in the 58% of buildings that are a high fire risk. In June, Boris Johnson pledged £1 billion to fund a decade long school rebuilding and repair program and a further £560m in early August. Based on large fires alone, Zurich Municipal estimates that the repair for school fires could hit £320 million over 10 years, a significant portion of the government’s slated investment. They want the government to ring-fence some of its promised investment to improve the resilience of schools at high risk of fire damage. Insurers need to work closely with schools to help them manage their fire risks, along with the installation of sprinklers to minimize the danger from the outset. Installing fire sprinklers across all schools Watson adds, “It costs far more to repair fire-ravaged schools than it does to install sprinklers. Even so, cash strapped schools cannot be expected to pick up the bill. The government’s COVID-19 investment is a critical opportunity to ensure schools are more resilient to fire.” He concludes, “Unless ministers change the law on sprinklers, much of this funding will be wasted on repairing the fire damage that sprinklers could have easily prevented. The government should also gather and disclose more data on school fires to help fully understand the risks they pose and their wider financial and social impacts.”
The Queen’s speech raised a number of post-Grenfell Tower issues including building safety standards legislation. She declared “My Ministers will bring forward laws to implement new building safety standards.” Within the official document released alongside this speech, it stresses that the purpose of this legislation will be to “put in place new and modernized regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products, ensuring residents have a stronger voice in the system.” It states the main benefits of this would be “learning the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire and bringing about a fundamental change in the regulatory framework for high rise residential buildings, and the industry culture to ensure accountability and responsibility” and “making sure that residents are safe in their homes.” clear competence requirements The BAFE Fire Safety Register fully supports the Government’s intention to bring these laws into effect" The document continues to note the main elements of the legislation would “take forward the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building safety.” It points out the legislation will provide clearer accountability for those responsible for the safety of high-rise buildings (HRRBs) throughout the entire life-cycle of the building (design, construction and occupation), “with clear competence requirements to ensure high standards are upheld.” Continuing this, it adds the legislation will strengthen “enforcement and sanctions to deter non-compliance with the new regime in order to hold the right people to account when mistakes are made and ensure they are not repeated.” Fire risk assessment providers Stephen Adams, Chief Executive – BAFE, reacted by saying “the BAFE Fire Safety Register fully supports the Government’s intention to bring these laws into effect and expect UKAS Accredited Third Party Certification to be documented as a robust method of confirming a service provider’s competence, most notably with fire risk assessment providers. However, BAFE would like to encourage all appropriate bodies to continue the deliberation that these laws should not exclusively focus on HRRBs – but likewise this should not further delay any introduction of legislation.” Nick Coombe MBE, Building Safety Program Lead - National Fire Chiefs Council, stressed this at the UK Construction Week exhibition saying “People in the construction industry need to know they are going to get caught, and if they get caught that the punishment is severe, and they won’t do it again [change is not going to happen] unless there is strong legislation and strong enforcement, the industry is failing, so our legislation, our new regulator, needs to have oversight of the whole industry, not just tower blocks.”
At the UK Construction Week (UKCW) 2019 event, day one focused heavily on the fire safety and what actions are being taken in the construction industry to prevent further tragedy. Attending the show, BAFE observed an industry that is responding to the fire safety issue, but more action is required and fast. This comes just days after Dame Judith Hackitt told the industry to not wait for regulations to ‘raise the bar’. On the UKCW main stage, ‘Building Safe Homes: When will there be fundamental reform?’, discussed these issues with a highly qualified panel. Chair of the panel Peter Caplehorn, Chief Executive – Construction Products Association, questioned “how do we correct the obvious problems that were so clearly identified in the Hackitt Review, how can we progress through a culture change that is needed?” Responsibility for managing risk Peter Baker, Director – Building Safety Programme Response – Health and Safety Executive (HSE), pointed out the obvious yet very appropriate declaration that rarity breeds complacency: “There are two lessons from 1974 [Flixborough chemical plant disaster]; One is: the primary responsibility for managing risk rests with the people who create it. It’s not the regulators job to run the plant and manage the risk, it’s the duty holder – it’s the people who create the risk." One of the biggest lessons we can learn from major disasters is that they do happen" "The second is: the rarity of major accidents tend to breed complacency. Because they don’t happen very often, people forget, people lose focus. One of the biggest lessons we can learn from major disasters is that they do happen, they may not happen very often, but when they do, they can have massive consequences not only for people, but also for businesses and also communities.” building regulations change Jonathan O’Neill OBE, Managing Director – Fire Protection Association, emphasized that change is required right now to establish safer homes: “It seems quite extraordinary to me, that the best part of two and half years – after the worst loss of life from fire since the Second World War, we still haven’t had a building regulations change in the UK. Essentially, apart from a change in the banning combustible materials on very tall buildings, I can build a building pretty much the same way now as I could before Grenfell. When are we going to get change? When we get building regulations change." "If we are going to put at-risk housing groups in combustible construction, we are going to have big big trouble. We have not learnt the lessons, we are far from learning the lessons. If [the Crewe care home fire] happened at night, we would be talking the exactly the same situation that we are about Grenfell just over two years after it happened. We’ve got to see regulatory change. [Dame Judith Hackitt has said last week] to the construction industry ‘you do not need to have legislation to effect cultural change’. Let’s face it, we do… we need change and we need it now.” introducing new regulations When will reform happen however? Dame Judith says, ‘industry should not wait – it must put its house in order, it must change its culture’.” Paul Everall, Chief Executive – LABC, recounted his experience with introducing new regulations: “As [Jonathan O’Neill] said, legislation will be required. Hopefully we shall see a draft bill this winter, but of course legislation takes time. In my civil service career, I was responsible for taking a number of major bills through Parliament and it can take up to a year for a bill to pass all its stages in the Commons and the Lords." "And that means it is unlikely to come into force before the Spring of 2021, which will be almost four years since Grenfell occurred. We cannot afford to wait until the legislation is complete, even though it will be required to ensure everybody follows it. Dame Judith says, ‘industry should not wait – it must put its house in order, it must change its culture’.” high risk situations Nick Coombe MBE, Building Safety Programme Lead - National Fire Chiefs Council, discussed their input to establish change but also reminded the construction industry audience that his firefighters have to go into these high risk situations when it goes wrong: “We kind of have a design system that puts in that, if everyone gets out and 10 seconds later the building collapses, building regulations have been met. That is ridiculous, because firefighters might be in there.” He also notes that “The Fire Safety Order is not a tool to fix something that should have been done in the building stage. We have to design buildings to ensure the lifetime of the people that are going to be [living] there – that it’s fit for them. People in the construction industry need to know they are going to get caught, and if they get caught that the punishment is severe, and they won’t do it again [change is not going to happen] unless there is strong legislation and strong enforcement. The industry is failing, so our legislation, our new regulator, needs to have oversight of the whole industry, not just tower blocks.” no more excuses We all cannot offload our risk and say it is no longer ours or someone else’s problem" Chandru Dissanayeke, Director of Building Safety Reforms – Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, proclaimed that after Grenfell he continues to hear excuses from the industry. He said, “it’s our shared problem, and we need to make sure it is not our legacy.” He reiterated in the question and answer session “Let’s be clear, even from this stage I’m hearing excuses – it’s your fault, it’s your fault, that needs to happen before this can happen – and as long as that happens, this industry has a long way to go. I just want to be really clear, there can be no more excuses. We all have to be in this, we all cannot offload our risk and say it is no longer ours or someone else’s problem. This is our legacy, it’s not future buildings which is our legacy, they’ll be fine. It’s the existing stock, that is our legacy and we need to correct.” Fire and Rescue Service In the question and answer session that followed the seminar, Nick Coombe and Jonathan O’Neill responded to discussions about doing the right thing vs cost: Nick Coombe – “At the moment if you try and do the right thing, it costs more and therefore people will go to the cheapest denomination. They won’t get the [appropriate competent] people because they don’t have to. That’s a real issue at the moment, people [in the industry] are trying to change, but then they are not getting the work because the end user will look at the quotes and they don’t know the difference. From a Fire and Rescue Service point of view, we are trying to promote people with Third Party Accreditation [Third Party Certification], promote the people that we want them to use so they know what they’re getting. I think a lot of people don’t know what they’re getting.” Jonathan O’Neill – “We have commissioned, through the Fire Sector Federation, a view of a barrister which we have given to Government about making the use of Third Party Certificated installers and manufactures a statutory defense in law. [This provides] great incentive to those who are actually commissioning buildings to ensure they are using Third Party Certification as no cost whatsoever.” appropriate safety requirements Stephen Adams, Chief Executive – BAFE, comments that this was a really valuable discussion (with too small an audience) which needs much wider circulation. There is a general fear from the fire industry that the issues raised will be ‘swept under the carpet’ by the wider construction industry safety concerns. As the speakers said it is the improvement and maintenance of the current building stock that will be our legacy to residents and end users with UKAS Accredited Third Party Certificated competence being the way forward for fire safety service providers. This will greatly support Hackitt’s recommendations of continuing the “golden thread” of information and quality evidence of conforming to appropriate safety requirements.
The Fire Protection Association (FPA) is slated to host a Midlands’ Seminar themed, ‘Building a Safer Future: A Call for Evidence’– an opportunity to discuss the government’s long awaited changes to fire safety regulations, including the Fire Safety Order, Call for Evidence and the Building Safety Consultation. Fire safety proposals Following a commitment to improve fire safety regulations within the built environment, 6th June 2019 saw the British Government provide a strong indication on areas in which the fire safety industry can expect to see long-awaited change. These new proposals are intended to put residents at the heart of a new regulatory system These new proposals are intended to put residents at the heart of a new regulatory system and provide clarity to what has previously been an ambiguous area. Fire Protection Association Seminar The Fire Protection Association’s Seminar will endeavor to unravel the government’s response, addressing the detail of proposed changes to both the building regulations and regulatory system. They will look at implications for fire safety and future regulations, competency, the responsible person, product certification and the evolution of the enforcement regulation landscape. Commenting on the relevance of the seminar, Fire Protection Association Managing Director Jonathan O’Neill said, “In the past there was confusion in the interpretation of the Fire Safety Order with regards to the materials used on the outside of buildings. Clearly since Grenfell, and the very recent fire at the block of flats with wooden balconies in Barking, legislation had to change.” Panel of speakers The event will be chaired by John Smeaton, Chair of the Fire Protection Association and the renowned panel of speakers will include: Rod McLean, Head of the British Home Office’s Fire Safety Unit - The Home Office’s response on the Fire Safety Order, Call for Evidence and Building Safety Consultation Jonathan O'Neill OBE, Managing Director, The Fire Protection Association - Post Grenfell: Implications for fire safety and future regulations Tony Corcoran, Membership Officer, Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) - Understanding best practice in passive fire protection - getting it right. Howard Passey, Principal Consultant, The Fire Protection Association - The Responsible Person Ian Moore, Chief Executive Officer, The Fire Industry Association (FIA) - People & product certification and approvals Nick Coombe, Vice-Chair, National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) - How will the enforcement regulation landscape evolve? James Wilson, British Standards Institution (BSI) - BSI’s response to the Grenfell tower tragedy The seminar includes: Access to fire industry experts Topical discussions on the government’s response Networking sessions Delegate pack Lunch Tea, coffee and refreshments Free entrance to the British Motor Museum 5 IFSM CPD hours This Midlands-based seminar is ideal for: Social housing providers Building owners, landlords and managing agents Insurers/brokers Facilities/building managers Health and safety managers Construction industry professionals and manufacturers Architects and designers Building control officers and approved inspectors Fire risk assessors Fire engineers Fire and rescue services enforcement officers