Mike Fox, Founder and MD of MAF Associates, looks back on what he argues was a frustratingly uneventful year for the fire industry, as we anticipate the enforcement of the Fire Safety Act 2021, the official unveiling of PAS9980, and the passage of the Building Safety Bill. But, are we ready for 2022?
The recent outcry over the sponsorship deal between Kingspan and the Mercedes F1 team shows us that memories of Grenfell remain raw in the public psyche, and with so much still to be resolved, that’s hardly a surprise. As we enter 2022, the crisis caused by the Grenfell fire is far from over and, while the imposition of the Fire Safety Act 2021 (FSA) and Building Safety Bill (BSB) will provide some much-needed clarity on what is required, the challenge now is how we fulfil those obligations.
Let me be very clear, right from the outset, that I support both the FSA and BSB. What is less welcome is actions such as that taken by the Welsh government on October 1, when they announced that they would start to enforce the FSA, when in reality they had nothing to enforce. If you will permit me a seasonal analogy, the FSA is a Christmas tree awaiting its decorations. PAS is the ornaments that will go on the tree. One without the other is not only ineffectual, but ultimately pointless.
Back in April, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the FSA was finally signed into law, but with delays to PAS, 2021 has been a largely wasted year for a fire industry craving a sense of direction from HM Government. Even once we do have this clarification, we will need to know what the Government plans to do in terms of enforcement, especially as it’s going to take several years to make every building compliant, given the number of sites involved and the worrying lack of qualified external Fire Risk Assessors (FRAs). It’s not all doom and gloom, but it is challenging, which is why I will use this article to explain why we need pragmatism over intransigence, and why nothing is black and white.
What it means
To summarise, the FSA provides clarity on the duty of the Responsible Person (RP) to ensure a compliant fire risk assessment of their building is undertaken. Previously, there was some doubt over the requirement to include the external walls of the building in even the basic Type 1 fire risk assessment and, in the majority of cases, this was not included. The FSA provides clarity that the external wall assessment does need to be undertaken, along with a standard methodology as to how it should be assessed.
PAS9980 outlines how the fire risk appraisal of external wall construction should be conducted and how the cladding of existing blocks of flats should be appraised. The expectation is that the FSA and PAS9980 will be with us in January 2022 and, once PAS9980 is published, the RP will be required to update their fire risk assessment accordingly, although a precise date for enforcement to begin has yet to be confirmed.