Category: News

Child at window

Child Safety Week

For #childsafetyweek here’s a reminder that Approved Document K (England) provides recommendations for the minimum height of windows (800mm) above floor level and guarding for windows where they fall below these levels.

Architectural trends are for deeper windows or french windows with low level cills into their designs. The cills to these windows can provide platforms to aid climbability by children.

As such, the recommendations for guarding height to windows may not be appropriate to afford the required protection and to ensure the safety of the occupants and hence achieve compliance with the functional requirements.

According to Childata, 50% of four year old children can step up 410mm, and 3% can step up 550mm. Any cill height lower than 600mm may therefore be considered readily climbable by children. The same source shows only 5% of four year old children are taller than 1200mm so most would be fairly stable standing on an upstand if a minimum guard height of 700mm were to be maintained.

Worth remembering when you are sat designing this week.

For more info download the BCA Guidance notes or ring and speak with one of our technical staff.

 

Airspace Development

New rules for blocks over 11m will affect Airspace development.

The Government have today (26th May 2020) published new guidance that will require Sprinklers and Way finding signage in blocks of flats over 11m in height.

Critically this will also apply to airspace development where stories are added to an existing block.

The new rules require that blocks of flats with a top storey more than 11m above ground level  should be fitted with a sprinkler system throughout the building. Sprinklers should be provided within the individual flats, they do not need to be provided in the common areas such as stairs, corridors or landings when these areas are fire sterile.

Applicants and building control bodies are reminded of the need to consider these new provisions in relation to extensions as required by Regulation 4(1).

New accommodation, formed by building work, should meet the relevant requirements having considered the guidance in the approved document. This means ensuring that the standard of fire protection for the occupants of the new accommodation is as would be provided for a new building under the approved document.

In the majority of cases, therefore, sprinkler protection and wayfinding signage will be necessary in any newly formed accommodation that falls above the new 11m trigger height.

It may also be necessary to consider additional protection for the existing parts of the building where needed to ensure that the extension is compliant with the applicable requirements of Schedule 1.

Equally, it will be necessary to satisfy regulation 4(3) by ensuring that the level of fire protection in the building as a whole is made no worse.

 

The 2019 edition will continue to apply where a building notice or an initial notice has been given to, or full plans deposited with, a local authority before 26 November 2020 and either the building work to which it relates:
a. has started before that day; or
b. is started before 29 January 2021.

The changes focus on the following fire safety provisions in blocks of flats:

a. Sprinklers:A reduction in the trigger height from 30m to 11m.
b. Wayfinding signage for the fire service: A new recommendation for floor identification and flat indication signage within blocks of flats with storeys over 11m

The full guidance can be found here

 

Material changes

The construction industry is rapidly returning to work following the Prime Ministers announcement last night (10th May 2020).

This raises a number of issues regarding the health and safety of workers on the construction sites which are quite rightly being discussed on social media today.

However, one aspect that doesn’t seem to have been considered is the problem of “material substitution”, where one product is changed for another.

With builders merchants and manufacturers still closed in full or part contractors will struggle to get the materials they need to undertake the work that’s required. If they cant complete the work they will often have penalty clauses for late completion or simply not get paid for the work that they have partially competed. This places them under great pressure to “get building work done” and it becomes increasingly tempting to substitute one product or material for another.

Whilst changing the colour of a kitchen worktop has little effect on health and safety other material swaps can have major life safety implications. This was evidenced dramatically at Grenfell Tower where cladding and insulation materials were swapped from the original product specifications, resulting in multiple deaths. To many contractors (and builders merchants alike) one product may seem very much like another, and the temptation to swap from PIR (polyisocyanate) insulation to PUR (polyurethane) insulation if that’s all that in stock will be great. However, if that product hasn’t been tested in the same combination as the original it may simply not be safe to use.

In some cases the products being substituted may look visually the same but have significantly different properties. Just last month CROSS (the whistleblowing scheme for construction safety) carried a warning that concrete lintels in a domestic extension had been wrongly substituted. The report explained that the engineers designed lintel was swapped with an alternative from the same supplier. The geometry of the two lintels were identical, but the replacement lintel was only designed to take 3/4 of the load of the original, risking future structural collapse.

In recent days we have seen builders intending to render directly onto OSB rather than a cement particle carrier board (risking warping and damp ingress), another who “sealed up” a manhole with a sheet of insulation and tape (risking the entry of raw sewage) into the building and one who installed of a domestic smoke detection system where a commercial system was required to ensure fire safety. Other examples include swapping fire or moisture rated plasterboard for standard plasterboard or using standard concrete instead of sulphate resisting concrete.

There is a real risk that this is common place, and likely to increase with hidden defects not becoming apparent for several years in some cases. Now more than ever it is important that works are fully inspected and that you look to appoint a clerk of works to check that the correctly specified materials are in place. Reliance on Building Control inspections alone will not deliver quality or safety as many of these items may not be identifiable and are often not “statutory” inspection stages in any case.

The issue of materials substitution was raised in Dame Hackitts report where she recommend that firstly a detailed specification must be approved prior to works commencing (known as Gateway 2). To avoid substitution she also recommended a statutory change managment system whereby changes of materials legally had to be notified to Building Control and works are not allowed to continue until that change had been approved. Lastly prior to occupation the contractor is required to evidence that the correct products had been installed by competent people.

To avoid the risks of material substitution the Government needs to ensure urgently that stocks of products are back to pre-COVID levels in order to safeguard lives. We would also call on Government to bring forward Dame Hackitts recommendations and legislate that

 

  • that work cannot start until approval is in place,
  • that material substitutions must be notified to Building Control and
  • that materials are clearly marked to help identification
We would also ask that this applies to all projects (including domestic extensions) and not just to buildings in the scope of Dame Hackitts report (eg those over 18m in height). Whilst this might seem a draconian measure pre approved specifications could be published to speed up the approval process – indeed a similar website already exists at www.Buildingregs4plans.co.uk which enables even a small builder to produce a compliant specification in minutes.

Pending that legislation we need an urgent national campaign to educate contractors, surveyors and clients of the risks and what to look out on site to prevent incorrect material use.

 

Downloads

Building A Safer Future – Draft Reply

As promised here is our draft response for you to use and amend as you wish.

Building safer future

PDF

https://www.thebuildinginspector.org/Response%20to%20the%20Government.pdf

Word

https://www.thebuildinginspector.org/Response%20to%20the%20Government-2.docx

Time is of the essence as the consultation officially closes on 31st July but I’m sure they will accept responses at least until Friday and may even announce an extension of time.

When you are ready add your name and sign the last page (electronic signature is fine) then Email to BuildingSafetyConsultation@communities.gov.uk and Copy to esther.mcvey.mp@parliament.uk

Want to know more check out our video https://youtu.be/NJ7LXfgXFPw