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20 Questions that need answers in light of Grenfell Fire

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on June 26, 2017 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)

20 Questions that should be answered quickly in the light of the Grenfell Disaster

(originally posted on twitter on 16th June 2017 by our MD Geoff Wilkinson @geoffwilkinson)


1: Can we see the Architects plans & specifications?

2: Were these approved?

3: Were the fire service consulted?

4: Can we see a copy of the consultation respons?

5: How many site inspections were made?

6: Can we see records of those inspections?

7: Were the approved materials used or was there a "value engineering exercise"?

8: Did the contractor rely only on the minimum statutory inspections or did they employ their own clerk of works to inspect?

10: Was the fire risk assessment updated as a result of the works?

11: Can we see a copy of the fire risk assessment?

12: What recommendations did the fire risk assessor make?

13: Were those recommendations acted upon?

14: Was any further work (e.g. Gas main) carried out after the building control sign off?

15: If so did that work require approval?

16: When was the last fire risk assessment carried out?

17: When were fire doors last checked?

18: When were emergency lights last tested?

19: When were smoke control systems last tested?

20: Can a sample of the cladding be taken off and tested urgently and publicly?


What should landlords do in response to Grenfell Tower Tragedy

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on June 25, 2017 at 3:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Advice on what to do to reassure residents

Here is the current guidance for landlords in light of emerging findings from Grenfell Tower


  • Check that the fire risk assessment has been carried out within the previous 12 months and that the recommendations within the action plan of the assessment have been completed;
  • Check that there have been no material changes (to the building, the fire safety measures or the occupancy) that could, potentially, undermine the validity of the fire risk assessment. For example installation of replacement windows, cabling, gas safety works.
  • Engage with your residents to ensure they fully understand the emergency fire procedures in the building, particularly the meaning of “stay put”. Ensure that fire procedure notices are accurate. The Fire Service are currently advising that Stay Put remains the correct advice in most cases unless major defects are highlighted in the risk assessment.
  • Check that there are no combustible materials (eg storage of refuse, barbeques) in the vicinity of the cladding. Ensure that there are measures to prevent combustible materials in such locations (eg by temporary barriers or instructions to residents). Instruct residents that they must not have any barbeques on any balcony.
  • Check that all flat entrance doors, and doors that open onto escape corridors and stairways, are fire-resisting and effectively self-closing against any resistance of a latch (or, for example, in the case of plant rooms or cupboards, are kept locked shut.
  • Check all walls that separate flats, plant and store rooms, etc from escape routes to ensure there are no obvious routes for fire or smoke spread (eg, holes where services, such as pipes and cables, pass through walls).
  • Check that any smoke control systems including automatically opening windows, roof lights, and associated fire detection systems, are operating correctly
  • Check all facilities provided for fire-fighters, including fire-fighting lifts and dry or wet rising mains are fully operational and have been tested. If you have ANY concerns you should contact your local fire and rescue service, who will, if they have not already done so, carry out an inspection to ensure functionality.
  • Ensure that there is sufficient roadway access and hardstanding for firefighting vehicles attending incidents and to be set up to fight any fire externally. Consider installing bollards to prevent inconsiderate parking
  • Check that insulation or other materials that form the façade meet all relevant standards - consider sending a sample of the panel and insulation for testing - especially if the block exceeds 18m in height.

If you discover that the cladding and insulation are of the same type used in Grenfell or fail the test then there are some emergency measures that you should immediately implement to ensure the safety of residents, pending replacement of the cladding

Notify Fire and Rescue Service.

Inform your local fire and rescue service fire safety/protection department. Failure to do so may put fire-fighters as well as residents at risk.   The fire and rescue service will carry out an urgent inspection with the ‘responsible person’ to ensure that they are identifying and introducing appropriate interim measures, as set out below. The fire service will carry out a further inspection once the interim measures have been completed:If the building is protected by an automatic sprinkler system (or equivalent fire suppression system) you might not need to take any further interim measures before replacement of the cladding.

If the building is not protected by a suitable suppression system you must consider the need for interim measures. The measures adopted need to be based on an assessment of the risk by a competent person, but the following must, at least, be considered:

  1. Residents to be advised to ensure all smoke alarms are present and working in their flat; to report concerns about fire safety measures in the building (eg presence of combustible materials in escape routes) to their landlord and, understand the purpose of any interim measures being taken.
  2. Closure of car parks in which a vehicle fire could impinge on cladding.
  3. Provision of a temporary communal fire alarm system, comprising smoke detectors in circulation areas and plant rooms, and fire detectors (possibly heat detectors, rather than smoke detectors) in conjunction with fire alarm sounders in each flat. This will enable the entire block to be evacuated simultaneously in the event of fire. This option is unlikely to be suitable for tall blocks, in which a large number of people would need to use escape routes at the same time. The system may comprise a wireless system, using radio to link devices.
  4. Provision of a fire watch by appropriately trained patrolling security officers/wardens.
  5. In the case of the most serious risk, consideration must be given to moving all residents out of the block until satisfactory remedial work has been done.



From the flames of the Great Fire

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on September 5, 2016 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

 

This week sees the 350th Anniversary of the 1666 Great Fire that devastated London and led to the introduction of the first proper system of Building Regulations in the UK


Laws had previously existed to reduce the risk of fire, prohibiting building with wood or roofing with thatch, but these laws had largely been ignored. Despite a number of previous fires timber-frame remained the most common form of construction in and as the population grew, so buildings were extended upwards creating jettied timber houses overhanging narrow streets.


The fire started in Pudding Lane in a baker’s shop owned by Thomas Farriner – who was the king’s baker His maid failed to put out the ovens at the end of the night, and the heat created by the ovens caused sparks to ignite the wooden home of Farriner. Strong winds fanned the flames and without any form of fire break the Great Fire spread rapidly between buildings, resulting in an estimated 80% of the city being destroyed and 70,000 people being made homeless. It was only the Thames that prevented the Fire spreading south and even greater losses.


That disaster led to the London Building Act of 1667, the first to provide for surveyors to enforce its regulations. Charles II decreed after the Fire that the City would be rebuilt in bricks or stone, and that streets should be wide enough to act as a fire break to prevent the spread of fire from one side to another. The number of storeys and width of walls were carefully specified.


Sir Christopher Wren was amongst the group tasked to draw up these regulations which became known as the London Building Act of 1667 and which applied to the walled City of London. Further acts of 1707 and 1709 extended control to Westminster, and by 1774 Building Regulations covered the whole of London. These Act's also included requirements for structural load-bearing walls, foundations, timber in party walls, joist centres, beam bearings, roof coverings and rainwater gutters and down-pipes, and was enforced by newly created District Surveyors - the fore runner of todays Building Inspector. Remnants of this system - the 1939 London Building Act (Amendment) Act and District Surveyors - still exist in London to this day.

 



 

Sponsored Water Pump

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on August 2, 2016 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (0)

We are pleased to provide an update on the Elephant Pump we sponsor in Africa in partnership with Aquaid Water Coolers

Our pump is now live and located in Zimbabwe in Manicaland – a province in the north eastern highlands of Zimbabwe.

 

An Elephant Pump is illustarted below and can easily provide safe drinking water for upwards of 300 people, so the impact on the community where the well is built is profound and far reaching.

 

These include

 

It provides safe, clean drinking water to a community that before would not have access to drinking water, but would most likely need to walk for miles to retrieve water in buckets or containers.

 

Having a pump eliminates many diseases e.g. dysentery – the concept of the Elephant Pump arose from the CE of The Africa Trust, Ian Thorpe, witnessing people having fallen ill from water from a contaminated water source where a snake had fallen in and decayed.

 

As the focus of the well building is for sustainability, it is likely that having access to water close by will mean that the children (as well as others) in the community will be able to eat better, drink more water and from this be able to better concentrate in class at school, which means a better education, which means a better future for them.

 

Depending upon the set-up in the community it is possible that a banana plantation could be established, and using water from the pump, the bananas could then be sold, more banana plants could be planted, and the monies from the sales could contribute towards the children’s’ school fees.


 


Theo Paphitis

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on August 2, 2016 at 5:15 AM Comments comments (0)

We are pleased to announce that we have been selected by Theo Paphitis as a winner of his weekly SBS competition on Twitter.

Theo is best known for appearing on Dragons Den on BBC Two, but is also Chairman of Ryman Stationery, Boux Avenue lingerie and Robert Dyas, as well as joint owner of Red Letter Days. Theo is also a mentor and investor to many other business acquainted via the Den including Wedgewelly and Fit Mix Pro.


Each week, Theo reviews and chooses his favourite entries who are then re-tweeted to his followers - all half million of them - providing a massive boost to the chosen lucky businesses. Theo says, "I admire people who have passion and energy. If you cannot bore your friends to death about your own small business then something is seriously wrong. I was struck by the number of business owners on Twitter who wanted to tell me about their new products and services. Small Business Sunday was born so that people have a specific time slot to tweet and can pitch their 'sell' directly to me.


All my businesses are privately owned and entrepreneurial in spirit. My vision is that everyone who has ever won an #SBS re-tweet from me becomes part of a friendly club. Like-minded individuals can share successes and learning's.


The SBS website http://www.theopaphitissbs.com/ also gives a valuable profile to the winners chosen I know I have been lucky in business and I am keen now to spread goodwill to others, of course not forgetting that very often, you make your own luck by making use of every opportunity."


Managing Director Geoff Wilkinson said "it's fantastic to be recognised by Theo in this way, and a real boost to our business from such a successful entrepreneur. Our social media account literally exploded with hundreds of new contacts and over 20'000 impressions in the hours after the award was announced. Theo had commented that the week's entries were a particularly talented bunch so it was a shock to find ourselves names as winners shortly after. We look forward to joining the #SBS family and sharing our experiences and tips within the community that have made us a multi award winning small business"


 

 

 

 


Party Walls

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on June 14, 2016 at 12:25 PM Comments comments (0)

A question we often get asked is can we cover a Party Wall Award as part of the service and unfortunately the answer is no.

As a Building Inspector we are being paid to check on the safety and conformity of the Building Owner's works from one side of the boundary.

We will not normally enter the neighbours property at any stage, certaintly not before works start and will not be able to assist with any damage claim.

Therefore it is important that you appoint your own party wall surveyor. Even if you do not intend on appointing a party wall surveyor, it is important that you get a party wall notice served. Without a valid Party Wall Act notice the works may take place contrary to the legal provisions of the Party Wall Act.

A "party wall award" is a legally binding document prepared by specialist "party wall surveyors”. It allows the building owner to undertake works at, or close to the party wall lawfully whilst safeguarding the rights of the adjoining owner. The "party wall award" determines how and when the party wall works are to be undertaken, states the precise nature of the party wall works in plain English, and sets in place procedures and obligations to protect both parties from potential damage or claims. As a part of the "party wall award" the party wall surveyors will generally examine and comment upon the drawings for the works.This is in addition to our checks that it will meet Building Regulations.

 

In most cases party wall surveyors will also attach a "schedule of condition" which is a written report of his/her survey of the relevant parts of the adjoining owner's property. The "schedule of condition" allows the party wall surveyors to return to the adjoining property after completion of the party wall works to verify and record any damage that may have occurred. The schedule easily allows claims for damages to be verified and dealt with quickly. It also ensures both parties have a written record of their legal position and the party wall award can therefore often prevent future neighbourly disputes. In some cases the only way to resolve a disputed claim for damages without a "party wall award" is through the courts, which usually puts an end to any amicable neighbourly relations.

 

If  work may be starting without party wall notice being served, and works will fall under the Party Wall Act , then it is possible to get an order from the court which will stop such works until a notice is served and you are given the opportunity to appoint party wall surveyors.

More answers to the most commonly asked questions about the Party Wall Notices can be found in the Government's Party Wall Act 1996 Explanatory Booklet which can be downloaded from the GOV.UK website along with templates for letters and notices see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/party-wall-etc-act-1996-guidance


Building Control vs Consumer Protection

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on June 14, 2016 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

The role of Building Control is often assumed to cover consumer protection, especially in small domestic projects, where the Building Inspector is often the only professional involved in the project.

In fact Building Control do not offer consumer protection, and are there only to ensure certain minimum statutory rules are adhered to. Its easiest to think of Building Control in terms of a car where Building Control would be the equivalent of an MOT test rather than a 7 year manufacturer's warranty. Therefore you could rightly expect the brakes, seat belts and emissions to be correct, but would have no recourse if the Radio, Sat Nav or paintwork were faulty.

The role of the various parties has been set out in the Future of Building Control report published by the Government

The report states that the building control service will:

  • provide a checking service to help achieve compliance with building standards
  • support and advise customers on how to end up with the result they want, but will not be a substitute for professional design and construction advice
  • help with aspects of quality (workmanship and materials) where these affect compliance with building standards, but not where they do not affect compliance
  • ensure that all building standards which are set in the interests of the wider public good have been complied with at completion.

However the building control service will not:

  • be responsible for compliance – that is the duty of the person carrying out the work. If work is found not to comply with building standards the person responsible could be prosecuted and the owner of the building may be required to put the work right
  • manage every stage of the construction process on-site – that is a matter for the contracts and arrangements between the client and builder
  • address issues such as the finish and aesthetics of the final project where these are not relevant to compliance with building standards – these are a matter for designers, developers, builders and, to some extent, new home warranty providers
  • deal with contractual problems between client and builder – this is a matter of contract law.

Roles and responsibilities of those involved in the building control system:

Building owners (householder, landowner, property owner) – are ultimately responsible for compliance of any building work undertaken, and should understand the aims of the building control system (to meet the needs of current and future users of the building, not just their own expectations).

Construction industry (architects, engineers, designers, surveyors, builders, construction companies, developers, etc) – design and build to meet the required standard, and have a clear understanding of the building control system and its role (eg to notify the building control service at agreed stages).

Approved inspectors – provide an independent third-party check on compliance with Building Regulations through plans checking and inspections; carry out informal enforcement, advise customers at design stage and on-site, collect and act on performance management information. Authorised by the Construction Industry Council on behalf of the Secretary of State. Approved Inspectors can also often offer other services beyond the building control system itself, (such as carrying out fire risk assessments and health and safety services), but may not undertake design or have a financial interest in the project.

When you use an approved inspector, they will take on responsibility for plan checking and inspection of your building work .The procedure requires you and the approved inspector jointly to notify your local authority of your intended building work on what is called an initial notice. Subject to any arrangements you have agreed with your approved inspector, you may start work as soon as the initial notice is accepted by your local authority. Work cannot start for a period of 5 days to enable the local authority time to process the Initial Notice.

Once this notice has been accepted by your local authority the responsibility for plan checking and site inspection will be formally placed on the approved inspector. The approved inspector will tell you what plans and information they need in order to check that the proposed work will comply with the Building Regulations. If you ask for one, the approved inspector will issue a plans certificate which will confirm that the plans of your proposed building work show compliance with the Building Regulations. When the work is complete the approved inspector must issue a final certificate to the local authority to say that the work referred to in the initial notice is complete, and that the inspector has carried out their inspection responsibilities.

If the approved inspector is not satisfied with work in progress on site, and you cannot resolve the disagreement by discussion, the inspector will have to cancel the initial notice by a notice to the local authority. This will terminate the inspectors building control responsibility for your project. In these circumstances the Building Control Service function is likely to have to return to your local authority

Important Hints & Tips

  • Get at least three written, itemised quotes for your building work. Prices can vary enormously, but don’t automatically go for the cheapest quote and ensure your quotes are “like for like” i.e. does one quote allow for all fixtures and fittings to a new bathroom but another builds in a nominal sum of £1,000 with you paying the extra.
  • Use a reputable builder – Check out sites such as Trust a Trader, Trust mark or similar or use one who is recommended to you and whose work you can go and look at and whose customers would use again.
  • Have your plans properly drawn up by an experienced architect and ensure that they are submitted to us as early as possible so they can be checked and any problems resolved. That way when a builder is pricing they have an Approved Scheme to price. Spending time and money early on planning and designing your project is money well spent, as defects or changes made at a later stage can be costly in time lost and reworking.
  • Use a contract even if its a simple project there are a number of simple homeowner building contracts available to buy off the internet, or if the Builder is a member of FMB you can download this one www.home-extension.co.uk/fmbcontract.pdf
  • For larger projects such as a new house insist on an insurance backed warranty. Although no longer a legal requirement there are 6 warranty schemes still in operation that were approved by the CIC under the designated warranty criteria, these being

Building Life Plans www.blpinsurance.com

Build Zone www.build-zone.com

Checkmate www.checkmate.uk.com

NHBC www.nhbc.co.uk

Premier Guarantee www.premierguarantee.co.uk

CRL www.structuralinsurance.com

In addition you can also now choose cover under a non designated warranty such as the Architects Certificate scheme if you prefer.

Professional Consultants Certificate Ltd www.architectscertificate.co.uk

Advantage Structural Defects Policy www.ahci.co.uk

Lastly don't forget you may need other permissions such as Planning, Party Wall Awards and that CDM requires that the contractor has at least a basic Health and Safety Plan - dont employ a Builder that will cut costs by working from a ladder when they should have been using a scaffold as you could find yourself liable if something goes wrong.

 

Disclaimer The information provided through this website is for general information only and does not constitute professional or legal advice. No liability is accepted for reliance on the information contained within this web site. Users should seek the appropriate legal advice before taking or refraining from taking any action based upon the materials contained within this web site.

Edinburgh school closures

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on April 11, 2016 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)

You may have seen in the news that safety fears have forced the closure of 17 schools in Edinburgh, Scotland, leaving 7,000 pupils at home after the Easter break.

Ten primaries, five secondary's and two additional support needs schools have been shut due to concern over the standard of construction carried out under a public private partnership (PPP) contract approximately 10 years ago.

The alarm was first raised in January this year when a wall at one of the schools, Oxgang's Primary, collapsed during high winds. Three other schools were later closed after inspections revealed problems with the way walls had been built.

On Friday 8th April Edinburgh City Council decided to close all 17 schools citing a “completely unacceptable” standard of construction and pointing to an absence of header ties in sections of the building,”

This is not the first time that this issue has been raised and SCOSS report 242 belived to have been issued in 2011 highlighted examples of a very similar nature http://www.structural-safety.org/publications/view-report/?report=3205

For those unaware the Building Control system in Scotland differs from that in England and Wales where Independent Approved Inspectors and Local Authorities oversee Building Regulation Applications.

However in Scotland Regulations introduced in 1992 allowed the self-certification of structure by chartered Civil or Structural Engineers. These regulations have become widely regarded as inadequate to provide an acceptable level of public safety as the absence of a statutory checking requirement made the possibility of human error a serious risk. A further problem arose from a lack of common understanding as to how much of the development was “structure” and therefore covered by the certificate.

Following great pressure to drop the self certification option it was withdrawn in May 2005. However amid concerns that the complete removal of the self-certification option presented a serious risk of delay and disruption to the building warrant process the option of self certification was replaced. As a result an optional self-certification system was adopted to allow certification by experienced, competent and responsible professionals without any further check by local authorities.

The professional Institutions representing Civil and Structural Engineering set up a structural certification scheme to meet the requirements set down by the Scottish Building Standards Agency (SBSA).

Registration under the Scheme permits individual Chartered Civil or Structural Engineers to certify designs as meeting Building Regulations providing they have met certain criteria, have passed an independent assessment of their competence and experience, and agree to audit by SER. Certifiers approved under this Scheme must be employed by firms that have themselves been accepted for registration as Approved Bodies and these will also be subject to audit.

It is unclear yet which system applied to the Edinburgh Schools PPP schemes and whether or not an independent 3rd Party check was made. However, if it turns out that the structure was self-certified pressure will grow for the Scottish system to drop the self certification option once again.






Approved Documenty B Consultation

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on February 1, 2016 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

The inquest into the July 2009 Lakanal House fire, in which six people lost their lives, heard that even the experts disagreed on the interpretation of Approved Document B.

 

The coroner’s “Section 43” letter to the then communities secretary Eric Pickles recommended a review of Approved Document B to improve usability which recieved much press attention in November 2015. See this article

In response DCLG (the Department for Communities and Local Government) have commsioned NBS to undertake research about the usability of the Approved Documents (particularly Parts B and M).

DCLG will use the findings to guide the development, style and format of future Approved Documents.

The survey explores how you use the Approved Documents and what changes you would like to see. The survey also explores what other resources you use to comply with the Building Regulations in England.

The survey should take around 15 minutes to complete. The survey is detailed, so that DCLG have the level of information they need to develop the Approved Documents in the way users want. As a thank you for completing the survey you will be entered into a prize draw. The winner of the draw will receive a £100 John Lewis Gift Voucher or a donation of the same value to a charity of their choice (terms and conditions apply).

You can take the survey here





Ministers to pilot competition in processing planning applications

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on January 7, 2016 at 5:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Planning minister Brandon Lewis has announced proposals to pilot competition in the processing of planning applications.

This move was signalled during the first session of the report stage of the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill.

The proposal will test whether planning could follow the lead from Building Control with  “alternative providers” handling planning applications.

Lewis said the proposals would give the Secretary of State the power to introduce pilot schemes “for competition in the processing of applications for planning permission”.

Lewis stressed that the scheme would be confined to processing applications and would not mean competition in determining planning applications. He told MPs: “Let me be clear: this is about competition for the processing of applications, not their determination.

“The democratic determination of planning applications by local planning authorities is a fundamental pillar of the planning system, and that will remain the case during any pilot schemes that the Secretary of State brings forward.”

Lewis insisted: “These new clauses will allow us to test, in specific areas of the country and for a limited period, the benefits of allowing planning applicants to choose who processes their planning application”.

He added: “That will lead to a more efficient and effective planning system, better able to secure the development of the homes and other facilities that our communities need and want.

“Introducing choice for the applicant enables them to shop around for the services that best meet their needs. It will enable innovation in service provision, bringing new resources into the planning system and driving down costs while improving performance.”

The full transcript can be read at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm160105/debtext/160105-0006.htm - scroll down to column 219 to see the debate.

 



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