FM Global discusses ADB call for evidence

FM Global discusses ADB call for evidence

THE INSURER has covered its submission to the call for evidence in terms of reviewing Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (ADB).

IFSEC Global shared an opinion piece from FM Global’s Tom Roche, senior consultant for international codes and standards, in which he explored the company’s recommendations outlined in its own submissions to the ADB call for evidence. Mr Roche noted that following the Grenfell Tower fire, the UK government ‘resolved to reform UK building regulations to prevent similar tragedies in the future’, with the call for evidence having closed in March this year.

The call for evidence was a ‘major opportunity for the fire-safety and construction communities to influence this process’, with the scope of building regulations at the moment ‘limited’ to health and safety of people in buildings. Mr Roche pointed out that while this focus has ‘in the past been understandable’, he states that ‘I would argue that by neglecting property protection the longevity and value of much of England’s built environment has been undermined’.

FM Global’s response called for the ‘inclusion of property protection within the scope of regulations’, in order to ‘help preserve our buildings and the lives of their occupants’. The insurer’s position as a commercial property insurer ‘with a tradition of engineering expertise’ means that it ‘feels a responsibility to share our best practices for managing fire risk and improving property protection with the government and the wider community’.

Expanding the scope to include property protection ‘must be proportionate’ and take into account ‘social and economic impacts a fire in a building could have’, while at the same time ‘meeting societal expectations that critical public buildings can quickly recover from a fire’. The government had welcomed views on sprinklers, which Mr Roche said was ‘fundamentally a positive development’ as ‘properly maintained’ sprinkler systems can form ‘an important part of a fire safety approach that saves lives and protects property’.

This was backed up by UK fire and rescue service (FRS) statistics, he noted, as well as ‘corroborate[d]’ by the insurer’s own global figures on the ‘effectiveness’ of sprinklers, including that they ‘help extinguish fire 99% of the time’ and have an ‘operational reliability of 94%’, as well as being a ‘proven system’ for managing building fire risks. Damage caused in industrial facilities ‘decreases by over 50% when sprinklers are used’, and by 75% in residential buildings, he pointed out.

The technical review of ADB will also see the government look at construction details and materials, and Mr Roche believed that any changes to guidance ‘should provide clarity for building owners on what materials they can and can’t use’, and ‘how they can determine whether construction materials are suitable’. The combustible materials ban ‘offered clarity’ but also ‘generated much debate’, with FM Global believing buildings under 18m ‘still need to carefully consider and select materials’.

Material selection ‘should be clear and consistent, irrespective of building height’, and the insurer also believes that designers and developers of buildings below that height ‘should only use construction systems that have been suitably tested to demonstrate performance with respect to fire risk’. This could be achieved by ‘clearly explaining’ within ADB the ‘desired level of testing, performance and product approval’ for ‘specific applications’ of materials.

Recent building fires mean that this should ‘extend’ to building attachments like balconies, which can ‘lead to additional routes to fire spread’ and are ‘not just limited’ to taller buildings. Compartment sizes in industrial and warehouse locations across England ‘should be reviewed’ too, because guidance currently allows ‘some of the largest compartment sizes for single-story industrial facilities in the Western world’.

These larger compartments ‘may lead to fires becoming uncontrollable if the affected area is too large’ for FRSs to contain ‘using existing water infrastructure’ or if no suppression systems are ‘in place. They are also ‘beyond the ability’ of FRSs to ‘quickly and effectively search to affect rescues’, with a recent test by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service..

This showed that warehouses with compartments of up to 20,000m2 are permitted under guidance as well as ‘unlimited industrial building compartments’, so FRS crews ‘can only reasonably search a fraction of this area’. Mr Roche concluded that the suggestions, alongside ‘a greater emphasis on verification’ that fire safety has been followed in building design and construction, would ‘go a long way to restoring confidence in the UK’s fire safety guidelines – and savings lives and protecting property in the long term’.